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‘ICE Is Not Welcome’: Agency Tries to Keep Immigrant Detention Center Open After Texas County’s Rebuke

Teddy Wilson

The T. Don Hutto detention center has been plagued by accusations of human rights abuses and sexual assault. The facility is emblematic of the criticisms made by immigrant rights activists of the use of private prisons to detain undocumented people.

Officials in a Texas county approved a plan in June to end their agreement with the federal government and a for-profit prison company operating a notorious immigration detention facility, but the federal government appears to be taking steps to keep that facility operational before the contract is terminated.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last week posted a Request for Information (RFI) seeking information from contractors that could operate a 500-woman detention facility that could be operational by January 1, 2019.

Williamson County contracts though an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE and CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, to operate the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. The county commissioners voted in June to terminate the contract by January 31, 2019.

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, told Rewire.News after the June vote that she was suspicious of why the county commissioners didn’t end the contract immediately, instead of giving a 90-day notice. 

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Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement that the organization was “outraged, but not surprised” by the apparent attempt to keep open the T. Don Hutto Detention Center.

“ICE grows more shameless every day and is as beholden to their private prison partners as ever,” Carson said. “The community has made it crystal clear: ICE is not welcome. “

Hutto has been plagued for years by accusations of human rights abuses and sexual assault. The facility is emblematic of the criticisms made by immigrant rights activists of the use of private prisons to detain undocumented people.

“This place is so bad that Williamson County Commissioners ended the contract so they wouldn’t be liable for its litany of abuses,” Carson said. “So we’ll keep fighting to see this place close for good.”

ICE is accepting responses to the RFA until August 24, and intends to post a Request for Proposal (RFP) and accept bids on a possible contract in “approximately 15-30 days” after the initial RFA. The RFA stipulates that the facility be within 50 miles of its Austin, Texas, office, which includes several counties other than Williamson County. It seems likely that ICE will seek to contract with CoreCivic, which owns the detention facility and the 65 acres of land.

During a Williamson County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Mark Brooks of Grassroots Leadership asked the commissioners to end the contract early and provide the detention center with a 90-day notice that the county would be withdrawing from the contract.

County commissioners said after the meeting that they did not want to end the contract earlier than the January 31, 2019, date that was approved by the commissioners, reported the Austin American-Statesman.

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