Protesters outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building have called it a detention center, but ICE says the building at 555 N. Woodlawn actually houses offices.
Undocumented immigrants are held there while their paperwork is completed.
Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer with the Department of Homeland Security, said in an email that there’s no time limit for processing a person, “though for most cases it’s usually at most a few hours.” Detainees may not be kept overnight at the building, he said.
“Not all people go to that office,” Neudauer said. “The agency processes and moves people wherever needed, based on agency needs and a lot of other reasons, including family, court, available bed space, to name just a few.”
In 2013, ICE told the Wichita Eagle that the building would include four temporary holding cells to keep undocumented immigrants as they are processed for deportation. There were to be no beds for overnight stays.
The nondescript building has no signage to indicate it is an office for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), except for a decal on a door and a piece of paper listing “immigration hours.”
ICE does not operate any detention facilities in Kansas, but contracts with county jails across the state to house detainees. One of those is the Chase County Detention Facility in Cottonwood Falls, about an hour outside of Wichita.
Mike Shatz, who began protesting outside the building Sunday night, said he still considers 555 N. Woodlawn a detention center since people are detained there before being released on bond or sent to a county jail.
“We know what the word detained means,” Shatz said. “We’re really not interested in ICE’s definition of the word.”
Shatz and others have been protesting immigration policies since Sunday night, when they set up tents outside the building. They took down the tents Monday morning after police told them to leave and then spent more than two hours discussing with police whether they had the right to protest at the parking lot. After police left without making arrests, the protesters moved to the sidewalk at Woodlawn and Central. Tuesday afternoon, they took down their tents after police cited city ordinances about obstruction of sidewalks.
Neudauer denied a Wichita Eagle request to tour the building at 555 N. Woodlawn. ICE moved to the facility along with the IRS in 2013 from their previous location at 271 W. Third St.
Claudia Amaro, an immigrant activist, said when she was detained in 2005 at the Third Street location, she was kept in a small cell by herself, while several men were detained in another cell.
People call her nearly every week about loved ones being picked up by ICE and taken to 555 N. Woodlawn before being released on bond or taken to county detention facilities such as the one in Chase County, Amaro said. She estimates that immigrants usually spend three to seven hours at 555 N. Woodlawn while being processed.