GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Activists pressed county commissioners Tuesday to end their contract with an immigrant detention center earlier than planned.
Next year Williamson County plans to cut its ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, a private prison company running the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Representatives from Grassroots Leadership, however, are now worried that the facility may still have a future even without the county’s involvement.
Sofia Casini, who works as an immigrant rights organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told the commissioners court about more troubling reports from inside the Hutto detention center, which currently houses about 500 women detained by ICE. “A Cuban woman, 25 years old, allegedly hung herself inside the facility,” Casini said. “This was about a month ago.”
An ICE spokeswoman would not confirm if the alleged suicide actually happened. Casini and other activists, like Jassary Rico-Herrera, keep sharing stories from women detained at the facility in hopes that they may make county commissioners end the contract with the Hutto detention center early.
“It’s a lot of intimidation,” Rico-Herrera said. “[The women] are not receiving the support. A lot of them cannot talk to their families. It’s trauma on trauma. It’s too much for them.”
While the contract is slated to end on Jan. 31, 2019, the commissioners can decide to end that agreement at any point within 90 days.
“We came today to ask them to reconsider and to please shut down the facility in 90 days. It’s a ticking time bomb,” Casini said. “Every day that place remains open is another day for more abuses and more legal liability on the county.”
The commissioners went into executive session for several hours Tuesday afternoon and may have discussed the status of this agreement. However, after talking to County Judge Dan Gattis and two other commissioners ahead of their discussions behind closed doors, it does not seem likely that they will make any changes to the plan right now.
On Aug. 9 ICE posted a “request for information” looking for potential contractors to run a female detention center with 500 beds near Austin. This was first reported by Mother Jones. The request does not name the Hutto detention center specifically, but the activists from Grassroots Leadership said they believe this is the agency’s effort to keep the facility running after the contract with Williamson County ends.
According to that same document, ICE will issue a request for proposals within 15 to 30 days. It then plans to make the unnamed detention center operational by Jan. 1, 2019. Grassroots Leadership points out that that proposed opening would come before the contract with Williamson County is set to expire later that month.