Ex-police officer now chief of detention center

RAYMONDVILLE — A former Harlingen police officer is overseeing the new detention center.

Since August, Francisco Venegas has served as warden of the El Valle Detention Center.

Now, Venegas oversees the 1,000-bed center that holds undocumented immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

In 1983, Venegas began his law enforcement career as a Harlingen police officer before climbing to the rank of sergeant.

In 1991, Venegas joined the U.S. Border Patrol, working as an agent.

After graduating second in the agency’s academy in Brunswick, Ga., Venegas was stationed in Brownsville.

In 1997, he moved to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s detention and deportation branch, which became ICE’s Enforcement and Removals Operations branch.

Last July, the detention opened at the 53-acre site of the former 3,000-bed Willacy County Correctional Center.

At the time, MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said the facility planned to hire about 150 employees, offering correctional officers hourly wages of $18.07, some of the better wages in this farming area with one of the state’s highest jobless rates.

Earlier that month, Management and Training Corp., or MTC, entered into a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants at the 1,000-bed detention center.

How we got here

On Feb. 20, 2015, rioting inmates destroyed much of the Willacy County Correctional Center, a Willacy County-owned minimum-security prison largely made up of 10 Kevlar tent-line domes.

Weeks later, the Federal Bureau of Prisons terminated MTC’s contract to hold inmates in the prison described as “uninhabitable.”

Since then, the county had worked with MTC to reopen the prison site.

Then in March 2017, the county sold the 53-acre property to MTC for $2,025,000 after bond holders demanded payment of a $68 million debt.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com