The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said it plans to open and expand a major detention center for undocumented migrants, a move that rights groups immediately slammed.

The residential center in Dilley, Texas, will start welcoming mostly children and women from Central America in December, the ICE said.

The facility's opening follows a crisis triggered by a wave of more than 68,000 children, most from Central America, who illegally crossed the US border unaccompanied by adults in the past 12 months, fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.

The United States is keen to send a message encouraging Central Americans not to risk the trip.

The new facility will eventually house migrants living at a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. These women and children will be transferred to Dilley at an unknown date.

The Texas facility could eventually house as many as 2,400 people, said Thomas Winkowski, the acting director of ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

"With the opening of the Dilley facility, ICE will have the initial capacity to house up to 480 residents but the ultimate capacity to house up to 2,400 individuals," he said.

"These facilities help ensure timely and effective removals that comply with our legal and international obligations, while deterring others from taking the dangerous journey and illegally crossing into the United States."

Rights groups swiftly criticized the move.

"It's truly offensive that the United States is institutionalizing the practice of family detention. The government has failed to show that detaining families is compatible with ensuring due process rights are protected," said Ben Johnson of the American Immigration Council.

Mary Meg McCarthy, of the National Center for Immigrant Justice, said that "detaining mothers and children is misguided, inhumane."