McAllen's Private Jail Project Draws Crowd of Critics at Cine El Rey
by Daniela Diaz,
McALLEN — Marisol Saldaña spoke out against McAllen’s private jail project Sunday afternoon, saying it would do more harm than good for the city in which she was born and raised.
“We are voicing our opinions, our thoughts, our disapproval of the city of McAllen and the (City) Commission’s actions about what they’re planning to do,” the 34-year-old told an audience of about 100 people at Cine El Rey. “We are putting a face and a name to all of those voices of (immigrants) that will be affected by this proposed prison.”
The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network hosted a public screening of the online documentary Immigrants for Sale, which depicted how private prisons negatively affect immigrant communities, the cities where they’re built and the people who are employed by them.
McAllen researched a potential partnership with a private prison company last year and started accepting proposals for a 1,000-bed lockup on July 11. So far, GEO Group is the only company that submitted a proposal.
The private jail would hold federal inmates under McAllen’s contract with the U.S. Marshals Service, and in exchange, it would pay McAllen, generating $3 million to $5 million annually for the city, according to Monitor archives.
The documentary showcased several stories, including those of two families with members who were treated inhumanely in a private prison and that of Littlefield, Texas, a small town that — according to the film — went bankrupt after a private detention center was built.
After the screening of the 33-minute documentary, there was a panel of women from different backgrounds who spoke about their opposition to the prison project, including Saldaña.
The panel and John-Michael Torres, 29, urged the audience to attend Monday’s McAllen City Commission meeting to voice their opposition to the project.
The meeting is set for 5 p.m. inside McAllen City Hall, where commissioners will “seek direction on opening and consideration of ‘sole proposal’” for a private prison, according to the city agenda.
“The image of McAllen and our region is on the line with this issue,” said Torres, who is the communications coordinator for La Union Del Pueblo Entero, a Valley advocacy group. “If they move forward with this project, they’re going to bring the kind of attention that no city wants.
“This is a critical moment.”