Williamson County agreement with ICE detention center ends Thursday

Williamson County

TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County will officially cut its ties after Thursday with an immigrant detention center in Taylor. 

The county previously had an Intergovernmental Services Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison company CoreCivic for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which houses women detained at the border. In June 2018, the commissioners’ court voted 4-1 to end those agreements by Jan. 31, 2019

Grassroots Leadership, a group advocating for immigrant rights in Austin, hoped that the county’s action would mean the facility would close by that date. However, it doesn’t appear T. Don Hutto will shut its doors anytime soon. 

On Tuesday Nina Pruneda, a public affairs spokeswoman for ICE sent KXAN a brief statement about the facility’s future: 

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filed a short-term contract extension with CoreCivic for the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility located in Taylor, Texas, to remain open beyond Jan. 31, 2019.”

When KXAN asked additional questions, the agency would not comment on how long that contract extension would last. 

Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, said it’s been impossible to get any information from ICE or CoreCivic. She and other members of her group have pressed city and county leaders to investigate the status of the facility. 

“This is the responsibility of county leaders [and] Taylor city leaders,” Carson said. “This is a place that is actively abusing more than 500 women consistently that is operating in their community. It is their responsibility to make sure this place shuts down for good.” 

Activists from Grassroots Leadership spoke at the Taylor City Council meeting on Jan. 24 and asked city leaders to try to find out more information about the facility’s future.

Mayor Brandt Rydell said previous requests from the group made him seek out a second tour of the facility, which he attended on Jan. 11. At that time he said he did not ask the representatives from ICE or CoreCivic what their plans for the future were. 

“I was impressed when I toured the facility with the professionalism, the dedication of all the staff that I met there,” Rydell said. “They were very open and welcoming and pretty much allowed me to go to anywhere in the facility that I wanted to view.”

“I know there have been allegations of sub-par conditions within,” he added. “Certainly I didn’t see any of that.” 

He, along with Williamson County leaders, said ICE and CoreCivic have not communicated with any of them about what will happen to T. Don Hutto once the county’s agreement ends Thursday.

County leaders told KXAN that the facility can remain open even without that agreement in place. The county, however, will not have any more oversight of the facility, which causes concern for Carson. 

“There is no sign of this place shutting down right now,” she said, “so we need to know answers as to why.”

Previously, Williamson County would send sheriff’s deputies to inspect the facility periodically and talk with the women about any claims they wanted to have investigated. The agreement’s expiration means that ends Thursday.

Grassroots Leadership plans to keep having its volunteers visit and work with the women detained at the facility. 
 

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