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Immigrant Detention

Vigil Calls for Closure of Raymondville's Notorious "Tent City" Detention Center

More than one hundred organizers from across Texas held a vigil Friday for the 4,200 immigrants in detention in the Rio Grande Valley and called for the closure of the controversial Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville (Protest at Willacy County detention center, Oct. 16, 2009). The 3,086-bed Willacy County Processing Center, a private prison operated by Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and partially constructed of Kevlar tents, is the nation's largest immigrant detention center.

In announcing the vigil, organizers pointed to evidence that alternatives to immigrant detention exist which are more humane, more effective, and more fiscally responsible than immigrant detention.

A Vera Institute study from 2000 showed that 91% of immigrants on a supervised release program attended all of their immigration hearings, and the cost of the supervision program was $12 a day, compared with the more than $30 a day ICE pays MTC to detainee immigrants at Tent City.

The Vera Institute concluded:

"Using community supervision as a substitute for detention... will increase the efficiency of the expensive detention system, and it will allow those who win relief, mostly asylum seekers, to avoid the pains of detention altogether."

In calling for closure of the Willacy County Detention Center, organizers cited dismal conditions which have been reported by former detainees and local news outlets. The Director of the facility in 2007 admitted to NPR that prisoners at the facility were forced to eat meals with their hands, and Harlingen's KGBT-TV reported that internal documents showed numerous documented cases that the facility fed immigrant detainees rotten or contaminated food including food infested with maggots.

The vigil also drew attention to the plight of more than 1,800 detainees held at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC), located about forty miles southeast of the Willacy County Detention Center. The prison holds ICE detainees, with subcontracting services by Ahtna Technical Services Incorporated (ATSI). PIDC detainees have been on rolling hunger strike for several months protesting violations of their due process rights, inadequate medical attention, and physical and verbal abuse from ICE and ATSI officers.

Our own Bob Libal was interviewed by KGBT Channel 4's Ryan Wolf at the vigil. Check KGBT-TV's coverage out here.

The vigil was sponsored by the Southwest Workers Union, Grassroots Leadership, Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity & Action (CASA), La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Libertad, Texans United for Families, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, ACLU of Texas, American Friends Service Committee - Austin, Border Ambassadors, and Texas Indigenous Council.

Previous Tent City Coverage from TPB-

Are the Hurricane Dolly Evacuations Putting Tent City in Financial Trouble? (09/09/2008)
Raymondville MTC Guard Accused of Stealing from Detainees (04/13/2008)
Guards at MTC's "Tent City" Accused of Immigrant Smuggling (11/20/2007)
MTC Prison Populations Growing, Partially Off Texas Expansion (10/23/2007)
Protests to Private Detention Centers Continue to Grow (09/04/2007)
Willacy County Goes $50 Million More in Debt to Expand MTC’s Tent City (08/30/2007)
More Detention Nightmares: Maggots in the food at MTC's Raymondville Prison (08/04/2007)
1,000 More Beds for Raymondville (AKA Prisonville) Detention Center (07/17/2007)
Raymondville Private Prisons and Prison Scandals Have Long History (06/17/2007)

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Emerald Corrections Building New ICE Detention Center in Mineral Wells

Emerald Corrections appears to be fast-tracking a proposed immigrant detention center in Mineral Wells, according to an article in the Mineral Wells Index ("ICE facility project heating up; Federal detention facility plans moving forward," February 13),

Emerald Companies will be submitting permitting and zoning plans to the city this week as the next step toward building an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainee facility in Mineral Wells.

“I see no stumbling blocks or hindrances at this point,” Steve Afeman, chief operating officer of Emerald Companies, said.

The Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation and Emerald Companies entered into an option agreement Jan. 15.

“Basically, they’ve got 90 days to exercise their option … or they don’t get the land,” Industrial Foundation’s Steve Butcher said. “This makes us [feel the project] is moving ahead.”

Mineral Wells is already home to a state-contracted Corrections Corporation of America pre-parole and transfer facility that was the site of four smuggling arrests last year and at least one riot.  See Nick's three part investigative series for more information. This facility also seems to spark considerable interest in our readers, with many family members commenting on conditions at the facility and many defenders of the prison posting lengthy rebuttals of our posts.

The major questions that jump out to me on the current Emerald proposal are:

  1. Is there a need for yet another ICE detention facility in Texas?  See the Detention Watch Network's map of detention facilities in Texas for a graphic illustration of the growing system of immigrant detention in Texas.  Is there any guarantee that the Obama administration will continue the policy of ever-expanding detention capacity?
  2. Who will pay for the financing of this facility?  Several counties have floated substantial debt to build federal detention centers, often to mixed results.  More information on this practice available at PublicBonds.org
  3. Is there already a contract for ICE detainees to be held at the facility or is this a speculative prison in a place where Emerald is hoping for a contract.  These are certainly different propositions. 

We'll let you know if we discover the answers to these questions and more news from Mineral Wells.  

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