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Empty jails hope to cash in on immigration crackdown

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Several counties in Texas with prisons that are empty or have low numbers are looking into filling their jails with immigrants who came into the U.S. without documentation, reports the Lexington Herald Leader in association with the Associated Press.

These counties were in debt in the 1990s and early 2000s, when they were losing employment prospects and population. To remedy this, these counties turned to building prisons with hundreds of beds that could be used to house prisoners from other counties, as well as from the state and federal level. The hope was to use these facilities to bring in jobs and money to debt-ridden counties.

The plan worked for a time, but eventually the Texas prison population began to decline as crime declined and there was an increase in alternative sentencing. However, these counties are now looking to the federal government to fill their bed space, banking on the immigration crackdowns following the election of Donald Trump. A proposed budget item in the Texas Senate would end state contracts with four facilities that detain state prisoners, three of which are privately owned. This has led these facilities to look for other ways to make profits, including by detaining immigrants who have been apprehended without documentation.

Many private companies have looked into renovating or reopening existing facilities to house immigrants, including the Willacy County Detention Center, which was closed in 2015 following a prisoner uprising. However, advocates are speaking out against reopening facilities operated by private companies with long histories of complaints and scandals.

Bob Libal, of Grassroots Leadership, said "If this is the plan to expand to the bottom of the barrel in detention centers, that should raise huge red flags for people concerned about immigrants' well-being and rights."

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