Immigrant holding center to add 250 women

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

  • AP

TAYLOR, Texas - An immigrant detention center that holds children with their families could double in population under an agreement between Williamson County and federal officials to add up to 250 female detainees.

Since opening in 2006, the T. Don Hutto Residential Center has held immigrant families while they await decisions in their immigration cases. The 512-bed facility has 250 people living there, and the county's agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could add up to 250 noncriminal immigrant females in a separate area.

County officials said Tuesday those women would also be waiting decisions in their immigration cases.

The detention center has faced heavy criticism by protesters for what they call the wrongful imprisonment of children. It has also caused liability concerns for the county, after a guard was fired after he was accused of sexually assaulting a female detainee in May.

Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the incident but said they found no criminal activity and closed the investigation in June.

County commissioners debated whether to keep their contract with the federal government and Corrections Corp. of America, the private company that owns and operates the facility. The contract expires Jan. 31, 2009.

Commissioner Cynthia Long said she is comfortable adding more female detainees, saying new measures have been put in place to prevent future incidents. Some of those include more staff training and education on how to operate video and security equipment.

The contract change surprised some residents opposed to the facility.

"I'm so adamant that this is wrong, but I don't know how we can go about changing this mind-set," said Jose Orta, president of the Taylor chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens. "This is just adding more fuel to the fire for us."