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"A Death in Texas": More excellent coverage of immigrant detention complex from Tom Barry

Tom Barry continues his excellent coverage of the growing system of private prisons detaining immigrants for ICE, the U.S. Marshals, and the federal prison system in a new article in the Boston Review ("A Death in Texas: Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge," November/December 2009) online this week. 

Barry, whose excellent blogging over at the Border Lines Blog, has covered the growing immigrant detention industrial complex in the context of the mess that is the Reeves County Detention Center out in Pecos.  In this new article, Barry takes a comprehensive look at the policies and poverty that have driven poor rural Texas towns into the prison industry, and what some of the disasterous results have been.  Here's a brief sample:

Debbie Thomas, curator of the West of the Pecos Museum (commonly known as the cowboy museum), sighs when asked about the town’s only steady business over the past two decades. “Well, we don’t want to be known as a prison town, but it’s better than being a ghost town,” she says. Pecos was once a busy crossroads and hub of industry. Today, the downtown is dead.  In 1985 Reeves County became the first of a few dozen Texas counties to get into the speculative prison business, when Judge Jimmy Galindo (no relation to Jesus Manuel Galindo) persuaded the County Commissioners Court to take a bold step for Pecos’s economic future. At the time, Judge Galindo and other county leaders argued that Pecos could cash in on the surge in incarceration rates that accompanied the war on drugs. Years later, for the prison’s two expansions, the county and the private operators would rely on the federal government to send them immigrant inmates.

Mineral Wells rejects Emerald detention center financing deal

From the Mineral Wells Index ("Council declines Emerald finance proposal," October 7),

Mineral Wells City Council on Tuesday declined to second a motion to finance a proposed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention facility.

Emerald Correctional Management Company said it was unable to date to secure private financing for the 500- to 1,000-bed facility that would house detained or arrested illegal immigrants. The company asked the city to issue public revenue bonds to build the estimated $50 million project.

After a presentation during Tuesday's council meeting, council members asked several questions, and Councilman John Ritchie made a motion to approve the financing request. However, no member of council seconded the motion, and the motion died with no further action or discussion.

What that means for the project's future is not certain. The Index is working on the story and will post it later today.

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DHS to announce new reorganization plans; Will Mineral Wells move forward with Emerald's supposed ICE detention center?

Today, Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration chief John Morton will announce the second phase of a reorganization of the ICE detention system.  While the details are still hazy, it looks like it may not be good news for the private prison industry.  According to the New York Times ("Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models, October 6) article on the announcement,

The Obama administration is looking to convert hotels and nursing homes into immigration detention centers and to build two model detention centers from scratch as it tries to transform the way the government holds people it is seeking to deport.

These and other initiatives, described in an interview on Monday by Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, are part of the administration’s effort to revamp the much-criticized detention system, even as it expands the enforcement programs that send most people accused of immigration violations to jails and private prisons. The cost, she said, would be covered by greater efficiencies in the detention and removal system, which costs $2.4 billion annually to operate and holds about 380,000 people a year.

It always makes me wary to hear about plans to fix detention system plans by building new detention facilities.  However, the move away from private prisons and county jail contracts could be a good thing.  It's too early to tell if the moves will include closing some of the large and controversial private prisons holding immigrant detainees such as MTC's Raymondville "Tent City." 

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Emerald proposes second site in Mineral Wells for supposed ICE detention center

Private prison operator Emerald Corrections has proposed a second site for a purported immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE site land deal closer," May 20).  A previous detention proposal by the company was rejected last month after widespread community opposition.  According to the MWI story,

Plans are progressing to purchase 187 acres in the northeast corner of Wolters Industrial Park to bring a maximum security facility to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to Mineral Wells.

“We’ve got the property under contract,” Steve Butcher, a recruiter for the Industrial Foundation, said. “It appears to be on track.”

The Industrial Foundation hopes to give roughly 30 acres to Emerald Correctional Management to build a 1,000-bed facility to house ICE detainees before they are flown out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

They are currently doing a survey of the land, Butcher said, and have submitted a specific use permit application with the permission of the owners.

A public hearing on a specific use permit application has been scheduled for the planning and zoning commission on June 1. If it passes the planning and zoning commission, the city council will likely vote on the application at their June 2 meeting.

While clearly Emerald is telling city officials that this will be an ICE detention center, my reading of this and other stories is that there is most likely no contract with ICE for detainees.  That feeling is compounded by signals from Washington saying that there will not be a massive detention expansion this year. 

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