Talks continue to reopen Willacy detention center

RAYMONDVILLE — Negotiations continue with companies interested in turning the old “tent-city” prison into a detention center for undocumented immigrants.

Willacy County commissioners took no action this week after closed-door discussions that may have included offers to operate the facility, Commissioner Eliberto Guerra said yesterday.

Management and Training Corp., the facility’s former operator, is working with the county after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement expressed interest in the facility.

County Judge Aurelio Guerra said the companies want to turn the facility into a detention center holding undocumented immigrants.

President Trump’s push to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes has fueled interest in the facility, he said.

“We’re awaiting a decision by the county,” MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said in a statement.

Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales called the facility’s reopening critical to the county’s economy.

“The most important thing is the jobs,” Gonzales said.

The city lost about $600,000 in annual water sales when the former 3,000-bed Willacy County Correctional Center closed in February 2015.

“If it’s privately-owned, we’ll be able to get property taxes and water and sewer (fees),” Gonzales said.

At Raymondville City Hall, City Manager Eleazar Garcia said he would like information regarding the economic impact and number of jobs the detention center could bring to the area.

“Those are all questions we have,” Garcia said. “We’re getting questions from our taxpayers. I’m curious to find out so we can let our people know — when to apply for jobs.”

The 3,000-bed prison was one of the county’s largest employers, paying higher salaries than most jobs in this in this farming area now struggling with a jobless rate hovering near 13 percent.

The closure of the prison, which paid the county for every inmate it housed, plunged the area into financial crisis, leading to 400 employee layoffs while slashing a third of the county’s $8.1 million general fund budget.