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Protests to Private Detention Centers Continue to Grow

When I first started following the growth of the private immigrant detention system in Texas several years ago, there were very few groups actively challenging immigrant detention and private prison expansion in Texas.

Today, organized campaigns to close private detention centers or stop construction of new detention centers in several Texas locales have gained momentum. Here’s a run-down of some of the action:

CCA’s T. Don Hutto Detention Center is possibly the most controversial of the private detention centers. This former medium security prison holds immigrant children and their families for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The facility has drawn oppositions from groups such as Texans United for Families, Freedom Ambassadors, Amnesty International, the ACLU, and University of Texas Immigration Clinic. The last two groups settled a lawsuit recently to improve conditions at the prison, mandate a monitor for the prison, and release some of the children at the prison.

MTC’s Willacy County Detention Center in Ramondville may not be far behind in its level of notoriousness. The prison, known alternatively as “Tent City” or RITMO, is a windowless series of Kevlar pods holding ICE detainees. It’s drawn protests ranging in style from vigils, prayers, blogs, and a community forum. Revelations from prisoners and guards that maggot-infested food was being served will probably not help the prison’s reputation, although expansion plans are in the works.

The Laredo “superjail,” a proposed contracted U.S. Marshals detention center, has seen opposition from a coalition of groups calling itself South Texans Opposing Private Prisons, which I have been involved with for several years. Initially proposed as a 2,800 bed detention center for pre-trial detainees (the vast majority of whom would be undocumented immigrants prosecuted criminally for crossing the border), the jail proposal has been downsized to 1,500 beds.

CCA’s Houston Processing Center has drawn several protests this summer, including a civil disobedience action which drew (ultimately dismissed) felony charges against the activists who chained themselves to the prison’s gates, and yesterday's protest, which drew 25 people and considerable media. I'll do a full write-up later today complete with photos.

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