County eyes immigration detention center
By LPR Staff
Caldwell County may soon be the last place illegal immigrants stay in their journey back to their home country.
During an extensive presentation to the Caldwell County Commissioners” Court on Monday morning, Mike Moore of Emerald Corporation spelled out a plan for a 1,000-bed detention center, which will potentially be l
ocated on FM 1854 between Dale and Lytton Springs.
“For the needs of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) out of San Antonio, this location is almost perfect,” Moore said. “It”s less than 30 miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and less than 30 minutes from I-35, which are both things that ICE wants.”
Apparently, according to Moore, ICE has been experiencing a shortage of beds for detainees as they move through the process of deportation. Emerald, a correctional management corporation, hopes to help ICE ease that burden – aided considerably by Caldwell County.
Presently, the company operates three facilities in Texas, and hopes to add a fourth, the Caldwell County site, within the next two years. Moore said construction of the facility would take from 16 to 18 months, with the first detainee in place shortly after construction is complete.
The 1,000-bed facility would be largely a “staging area,” Moore said. Illegal immigrants from across the country would be flown to ABIA and later transported to the Caldwell County facility, where they would be “out-processed,” and finally deported to their home countries. The facility would focus on Mexican and Central American detainees.
“Most of the people we”re talking about here are going to be non-violent, non-criminal detainees,” Moore said. “The Federal Marshals have other facilities to house those individuals.”
Moore said the detainees would mostly be those that were in the United States and living as employed, law-abiding citizens who pose no physical threat to the communities around them. Some, he admitted, might have criminal records. However, the lion”s share would probably not.
As a condition for construction of the facility, the Caldwell County Commissioners” Court would have to create a local government corporation to work in conjunction with Emerald and ICE. The local government corporation would issue the bonds for the construction – as opposed to the County doing so. The bonds would be repaid using funds paid by ICE to Emerald for management of the facility. Although Emerald would staff and manage the facility, all construction will meet the requirements of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and the Caldwell County Sheriff would have final authority on many staffing policies.
Although the facility would not pay taxes, payments would come into the county”s general fund, through a payment agreement that would allocate a portion of ICE”s per-diem payment for housing detainees to Caldwell County. Moore estimated that payment at about $30,000 per month, or $400,000 per year.
According to Emerald”s plans, the facility would be located in a sparsely-populated area of Caldwell County, about five miles away from each Dale and Lytton Springs on FM 1854. The 431-acre facility will be double-fenced and secure, with its own fire protection in place, as per county standards.
Though time is of the essence, Moore said, the Commissioners opted not to agree to the project on Monday. Instead, they said, they would prefer to research the facility more, and hold a series of public hearings to allow citizen input on the matter.
At press time on Wednesday, the first such hearing had not been announced. Watch www.post-register.com for updates as additional information becomes available on this developing issue.
In other business, the Commissioners opted to reinstate an outdoor burning ban, and to place a ban on aerial fireworks for the Christmas/New Year”s season.
Although County Fire Marshal Jeff Wright indicated that the county is in a relatively safe position for wildfire control, the Commissioners opted to put the burn ban in place, largely to ensure the ability to ban fireworks.
Under state rule, decisions about banning aerial fireworks must be made before Dec. 15. To enact such a ban, an outdoor burning ban must also be in place. Monday”s meeting was the Court”s last chance to put the ban in place.
However, Commissioners noted if the current weather pattern continued and brought ample rain to the area, it was possible that the bans might be lifted.
In brief news:
A public hearing will be held on Monday, Dec. 17 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss changes to the County”s existing rabies control orders.
The Commissioners approved the purchase of three additional “panic buttons” for county offices.
They waived the fees for a septic permit for the McMahan Volunteer Fire Department, as they have done with other volunteer fire departments in the past.
They discussed allowing the Guadalupe Basin River Authority (GBRA) to move forward with a long-term water and wastewater sustainability study for Caldwell County.
The County paid bills in the amount of $360,528.63, which included $6,527 for indigent legal defense.
The Caldwell County Commissioners meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings begin at 9 a.m. and are open to the public.