In June, Williamson County cut ties with Taylor’s T. Don Hutto Residential Facility, giving some human rights groups hope that the facility, which serves as a detention center for about 400 immigrant women, would be shut down.

Last week, federal immigration officials published a request for information (RIF) in search of a contractor with the ability to operate a 500-bed detention facility for women within 50 miles of Austin.

According to an immigrants’ rights group, the request is an effort to keep the center open.

“We are outraged, but not surprised,” said Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “The community has made it crystal clear: ICE is not welcome. This place is so bad that Williamson County Commissioners ended the contract so they wouldn’t be liable for its litany of abuses.”

The center has been the focus of human rights groups since it converted from its original role as a medium-security state prison in 2006. Allegations, including several cases of sexual abuse and poor living conditions, landed the center in the cross-hairs of an ongoing FBI investigation last year.

The decision gave ICE until January 2019 to renegotiate contract or determine logistics for closing the facility.

“Let me be clear I’ve always believed that the women at T. Don Hutto should not be there,” said WilCo Pct. 1 Commissioner Terry Cook prior to the June vote. “They are fleeing horrific living conditions. Our country needs immigrants.”

Under the contract, Core Civic paid about $8,000 a month for a county representative to serve as a liaison between it, the county and ICE.

That contract gave Williamson County Sheriff’s officers the ability to go onto the property during investigations — of which there have been several since the facility was converted into a residential center in 2006.

“I’m very apprehensive about bringing this forward,” said Cook. “They (Williamson County Sheriff’s Office) clearly have uncovered problems in the past which did result in court cases.”

CoreCivic, the company that owns and operates T. Don Hutto, is also facing a class-action lawsuit brought by former detainee Martha Gonzalez over a work program inside T. Don Hutto that allegedly paid detainees $1 to $2 per day to clean medical units and bathrooms, strip and wax floors, do laundry, prepare and serve meals, and perform clerical work.

County commissioners were expected to hear details regarding those allegations Tuesday.

According to the RFI, federal immigration authorities are looking for a facility within 50 miles of Austin and 60 miles of Austin’s international airport. A location in Taylor would meet both of those requirements.

CoreCivic opened the facility as a private prison in 1996 and owns about 35 acres on Welch Drive east of the Mustang Creek Industrial Park and near the Doak Street Ball Fields.

According to the Williamson County Appraisal District, the property is valued at $13.1 million and paid a total of $371,232 in property taxes for 2017. Of that, the city of Taylor received more than $104,000 and Taylor ISD took more than $205,000.

The facility houses about 500 people — all women — and employs about 300 people.

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