Plopped on an industrial stretch of Powerline Road in Pompano Beach, BTC looks docile, even cozy. Coats of soft-pink exterior paint and an absence of discernible security measures — no spools of barbed wire, no looming guard towers, an open front gate — create the illusion of a pricey rehab center or a boarding school for troubled teens. Even the name, Broward Transitional Center, is a well-crafted misdirect.

Acosta said that this past March, around 5 a.m., his family was awakened by a harsh knock at the door of its Margate home. His father answered, and in stepped two men wearing suits. "They just started asking for social security numbers and names of everyone," Acosta laments.

He, his two brothers, and their father are in the U.S. legally, but his mother, who had moved to the U.S. 15 years ago to escape violence in El Salvador, never got proper papers. "Once she said her name, Maria Caballero, the men said they had to take her," he says. She was hauled out of the house on the spot and has been in BTC for roughly seven months. Broward court records show that women with that name have only traffic infractions.

The family of Samuel Resendiz-Lopez is fighting against his upcoming deportation.
Monica McGivern
The family of Samuel Resendiz-Lopez is fighting against his upcoming deportation.
Immigration activist Viridiana Martinez infiltrated the detention center, but was released after contacting news outlets about the conditions inside.
Monica McGivern
Immigration activist Viridiana Martinez infiltrated the detention center, but was released after contacting news outlets about the conditions inside.

Acosta's account is almost impossible to confirm or deny because ICE reports on removal operations aren't public record, according to agency spokesman Nestor Yglesias.

Samuel Resendiz-Lopez's wife and three teenaged daughters were also protesting. His 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, said her dad, a construction worker who has been in the U.S. for 19 years, was at a rest stop coming home from work when federal customs officials profiled him and asked for proof of citizenship. Samantha said he was released a few weeks ago without ever seeing a judge. He now wears an ankle bracelet and has been told to prepare for deportation. Resendiz-Lopez has no criminal record, according to a search of Broward and Palm Beach court files.

Susana Barciela, policy director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Miami-based nonprofit that provides free legal services to detainees, says it's absurd to hold low-priority immigrants. "By definition, BTC detainees have committed no crimes or only minor infractions," she said in an email. "They are precisely the population that ICE should release or not detain in the first place — people who pose no threat to their communities."

Barciela says that in September 2011, federal immigration agents stood outside a cosmetology exhibition at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center and asked people for proof of citizenship. Given that many immigrant women work in the field, it was easy pickings. Agents arrested anyone whose documents didn't pass muster. "To the best of our knowledge, none of the women arrested had histories of prior criminal convictions," Barciela says.

A spokeswoman with Customs and Border Protection, the enforcement agency of DHS, says there are no records of such an event.

It's not just activists who say ICE shouldn't be funneling finite resources into detaining low-priority cases. In 2011, in the face of budgetary woes, John Morton, national head of ICE, issued three memos that set priorities for the agency. He specified they should focus efforts on undocumented people who werefugitives, who recently entered the U.S., and/or who posed a danger to national security or public safety. He discouraged officers and prosecutors from going after noncitizens who were either victims or witnesses of crimes or who would qualify for the DREAM Act. In June, President Obama told the agency to stop deporting immigrants who would qualify for the DREAM Act.

Why, then, is the Broward Transitional Center packed with people who fit the mold of low-priority cases?

"Low priority doesn't mean no priority," said Marc Moore, the sharp, hawk-eyed ICE field officer for BTC who guided New Times on a tour of the center. "These people are in violation of immigration law... We don't house violent criminals or those with known violent tendencies here. But there could be people who have committed white-collar crimes or other offenses."

Broward Transitional Center was built in the 1990s by the controversial security firm Wackenhut, which changed its name to the GEO Group in 2003. At first, the facility housed inmates taking part in a work-release program run by the Broward Sheriff's Office, Moore says. In 2007, BSO moved out and ICE moved in.

At full capacity, BTC can hold 595 men and 105 women. Architecturally, it's less like a prison and more like an overly sterile, closely monitored, very quiet motel. Each room sleeps six on three sets of bunk beds. There are air conditioners and private bathrooms with a tub and shower, though the doors don't lock.

Moore showed off the flat-screen televisions in detainee rooms that have 32 channels, boasted about the outdoor fitness equipment, and touted the fact that detainees can earn a dollar a day if they volunteer for odd jobs, from working the mess hall to clipping hair at the barber shop.

Men are issued bright-orange jumpers, while women get gray sweats. A courtyard separates the sexes, the women relegated to a single hallway on the second floor of one building. That day, a pungent cafeteria served fried chicken for lunch. There are offices for attorney-client meetings, an intake room, and one courtroom, which New Times wasn't allowed to view during the visit because it falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review.

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I know one of these people and he isn't some innocent little construction worker. He "rents" out other Hispanics taking $3 + off each hour that each works and keeps it for hisself plus using fraudulent insurance he pays to "work under" ....nice long as noone gets hurt... And do u think paying someone to pass you through the driver license process and not check your immigration status is okay??? It is illegal. Period. When I ... A US Citizen do ANYTHING with the government agencies I have to prove who I am or I don't get what I screw the pity party...this jerk even balked at the US Gov showing Pics of his ankle bracelet on his Facebook ...take your tail home if you don't like it!!!!!!

frankd4 topcommenter

this reminds me of the judge who presided over juvenile court and detained kids unecessarily because the judge had a personal financial interest in the OVER populated juvenile detention center


well why should judges be thought of as any less greedy or egotistical or power-hungry than investment bankers or politicians and after all most judges are in fact lawyers who are notoriously self promoting and self interested regardless of conflicts


still the hispancis only need to look at how america treated the indigenous american indians to see what miscarriages of justice this country was founded on


the only conselation is most every immigrant population has suffered a similar fate


Never ceases to amaze me that most Americans think that PRIVATIZATION of this kind won't cost any taxpayer money, while, in actual fact, it costs us WAY more.

KennyPowersII topcommenter

The arrogance of lawbreakers never ceases to amaze me.


Mr/Mrs. robinked: The world is not a better place because of people like you, calling other humans Scum, not having any compassion. I only feel sorry for you.


it Never ceases to Amaze me that the Lame-stream media  thinks that it IS A-ok to constantly parade the 'plight' of ILLEGALS & their Lawbreaking activities & Theft But Ignore the Plight of Hardworking American's, Taxpayers that have Lost Jobs, services, Scholorships etc. Due to these same ILLEGAL, Scum.........!!!!---Guess it goes back to that ol' "Blame the Victim" mentality.....NOT the Perpetrator of the CRIME..........sheesh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!