7/6 Raymondville, TX: (2000 bed) Detention site for migrants moving ahead
- Detention site for migrants moving ahead
Express-News Staff Writer
RAYMONDVILLE - Willacy County officials haven't formally decided who will get to build the state's largest immigration detention facility - but that hasn't stopped a Houston company from beginning work on the massive project.
Hale-Mills Construction has had crews at the site of the planned $50 million jail for the past two weeks, leveling land and pouring concrete for the foundation.
The company began working on the 2,000-bed facility after county officials signed an agreement June 19 with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees.
Without a county decision on how to pay for it or, more importantly, who would be hired to build it, Hale-Mills began clearing a cotton field in Raymondville the next day.
The company has been working on the project every day since, Sheriff Larry G. Spence said.
Executives at Hale-Mills didn't return phone calls seeking comment this week and last week. A contract to hire the company has been drafted and will be presented to a public facilities corporation created by the county when it holds its first meeting today.
Ramon Vela, a Weslaco attorney representing the county in the venture, said that because of deadlines established in the agreement, the company knew work needed to begin immediately.
"That's when Hale-Mills said, 'We got to get started now,' and that's when they decided to move dirt," Vela said.
He said the county was given 30 days from the time the agreement was signed to have 500 beds available for federal authorities. He said the remaining 1,500 beds are to be completed 60 days after that.
"Never have I experienced a project that has been on such a fast track," Vela said.
The architecture, designed for speed of construction, is the first of its kind for ICE. The project will include 10 pod-like domes, each housing 200 detainees. The domes are to be made of steel beams covered with a tough synthetic-type fabric, said Sheriff Spence.
It is being built to help end the "catch and release" policy for non-Mexican undocumented immigrants, said Nina Pruneda, a San Antonio spokeswoman for ICE.
Unlike immigrants from Mexico who are routinely sent back across the border, immigrants from other countries are often released with a notice to appear before a U.S. immigration judge. More than 80 percent fail to do so.
President Bush, in a televised address May 15 on immigration reform, called the practice unacceptable and vowed to end it. He said more detention centers would be built to house such immigrants until their court hearings.
In Raymondville, the jail pod complex will also have a permanent building with four immigration courtrooms and an infirmary, Vela said. It is being built near a cluster of existing county and state jails and a privately-run federal detention center.
County officials are working out other details, such as how the county will pay for the facility's construction and if Hale-Mills will build it, Vela said.
County Judge Simon Salinas said the company is working at its own risk and has no guarantees it will be chosen to finish the job.
The county formed the public facilities corporation to issue $50 million in lease revenue bonds to investors to fund construction.
Although no bonds have been issued and the county hasn't identified the corporation's governing board, that board is set to meet today to pick officers, consider hiring Vela as its lawyer and consider approving a contract with Hale-Mills.
It will also consider hiring a private jail company to operate the facility after it is completed.
"The project is going to happen," Vela said.
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