On Wednesday, private prison company MTC announced it had finalized a deal to revive the notorious immigrant detention facility once known as “Ritmo,” in the tiny South Texas town of Raymondville. In a press release, MTC said the newly christened El Valle Detention Facility will hold 1,000 adult detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Details about the deal are scarce. Willacy County officials haven’t publicly released the contract with ICE and MTC, and the county judge has refused to provide details to the press, such as how much federal money the county will be funneling to MTC. Earlier this month, about 50 protesters showed up to a county commissioners meeting to urge officials not to resurrect the facility, which they described as a disastrous boondoggle of human rights abuses and financial pitfalls.
In 2005, two Willacy County officials were convicted of bribery for trading their votes on the prison contract for money. After prisoners nearly burned “Ritmo” to the ground in 2015, local officials were left with an empty prison and a mountain of debt. Willacy County even sued MTC for mismanagement in 2016, but none of that has deterred county officials.
In MTC’s press release, Willacy County Judge Aurelio Guerra gave the company an enthusiastic endorsement. “MTC is a strong partner,” he said. “They are committed to the well-being of the people in their care. As you know, the last few years have been financially challenging for the county, so we look forward to this new facility and the economic benefits it will bring to our area.”
Immigrant rights advocates disagree. “Given the serious failures of the past, it is unbelievable that anyone would think it’s a good idea to reopen the detention camp at Willacy,” Victoria López, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told the Observer last month.
Wednesday’s press release also included an upbeat promotional video showing immigrant detainees in facilities resembling criminal prisons. In the video, MTC’s signature acronym flashes across the screen: “BIONIC — Believe It Or Not I Care.”
Time will tell whether belief in the private prison industry will burn Willacy County yet again.