Monday, September 23, 2013

Stop the Private Jail Business

McAllen's Private Jail Project Draws Crowd of Critics at Cine El Rey
by Daniela Diaz,
McAllen Monitor

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.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Changing the Conversation on Immigration

(Thanks to John Michael Torres of LUPE for putting these together):

Congressman Vela introduces the importance of trade with Mexico in our region--immigration is bigger than border security
Sept 6, 2013: McAllen Monitor (and other Valley papers):

"U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, invited a few of his colleagues from Congress to the Rio Grande Valley for a fact-finding tour and gave them plenty to chew on." The Congressman focuses on cross-border trade.

EDITORIAL: Private jail in McAllen questioned
"A public hearing last week on the possibility of opening a 1,000-bed privately-run prison by the city of McAllen raised alarming questions by many citizens and lots of red flags that our city leaders would be wise to heed."

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar: Reform immigration now
"As the fall legislative calendar begins, and we are confronted with pressing fiscal and national security issues, the window for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is narrowing. Soon enough, we will find ourselves in a new year, and all the pressures of campaign season will descend upon Congress. And soon after, we will find ourselves in the midst of the 2016 presidential race. I encourage my colleagues to act on this unique moment to develop an immigration reform plan that fixes a severely broken system....

"We must develop legislation that includes a viable border security plan that limits the influx of illegal immigrants and visa overstays; a guest worker plan that provides an avenue for farm workers and high-skilled employees to benefit our economy, and legalization for the estimated 12 million immigrants who are currently living here illegally."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Equal Voice: Enough of the Private Prison Business

Click here to hear the two minute radio interview

Critics: McAllen's Plan for Private Jail "Economically Wrong"

PHOTO: More than 50 advocacy groups have signed onto a letter in opposition to a plan by the City of McAllen to partner with a for-profit prison corporation for a new 1,000-bed facility. Photo credit: John S. Quarterman

PHOTO: More than 50 advocacy groups have signed onto a letter in opposition to a plan by the City of McAllen to partner with a for-profit prison corporation for a new 1,000-bed facility. Photo credit: John S. Quarterman
September 11, 2013
McALLEN, Texas - The city of McAllen is hosting a public forum this afternoon on its plan for a private jail, a project facing ever-growing opposition.

Among those hoping McAllen will dump the plan is Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca. Cass said she believes it's morally wrong for people to profit off the incarceration of others, and that McAllen would be opening itself up to liability, as has happened in other cities and counties elsewhere.

"For-profit prison corporations have had a terrible track record, and it will cost the taxpayers money in the future," she said. "I have lived in McAllen for 33 years. I like the vision that McAllen has, and putting in a private prison is really inconsistent with that vision."

The proposal calls for a 1,000-bed jail for inmates awaiting hearings at the federal courthouse in McAllen. Supporters say it could help solve the inmate transport backlog, create jobs and generate a deal worth up to $2 million a year for the city. But Cass said a private prison would impede better forms of economic growth and could even lead to net damage.

"It will be a doughnut hole wherever they put it," she said. "No one's going to want to develop businesses or houses around a prison, even though they claim they're going to put it in an industrial-zone area. They pay mostly minimum wage, so they drive wages down, actually."

Another serious concern, Cass said, is that the prison would hold mostly undocumented immigrants, all serving six-month sentences for crossing the border without inspection.

A letter in opposition to McAllen's private jail project has been signed by more than 50 advocacy groups, including the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network.

The forum starts at 5:30 p.m. today at McAllen City Hall. More details are online at
John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cycling for Immigration Reform

The Immigration Working group invites you to “Cycling for Immigration Reform” event set for September 21, 2013, at 8:30am. The event will start and end at the Brownsville Event Center (1 Events Center Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78526--just south of Cameron Park on Paredes Line Road). We will ride for approximately 10 miles in a large group through the streets of Brownsville. We are planning to provide snacks, water, and sports drinks at the end of the ride, but we strongly encourage you to bring your own water bottle.

The event is free and open to the public. Please fill out the waiver (see below), scan it, and email to before September 18, 2013. You may also bring the waiver on the day of the event, but please send Edgar an email before to confirm your attendance. This will help us organize the event. Feel free to email Edgar if you have any questions.

Please arrive at least 30 minutes early to receive your “bicycle number.”

This event is for everyone who has a bicycle! Don’t forget your helmet and water bottle!  

Click here to go to waiver (pdf)