A notoriously abusive detention center nicknamed 'Ritmo' may be re-opening under Trump

March 2, 2017
Business Insider

One of America's most notorious detention centers may be opening its doors again under President Donald Trump.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is considering reactivating the vacant Willacy County Correctional Facility in Raymondville, Texas, according to Texas Monthly, prompting concerns about the center's history of abuse, neglect, and other illegal activity.

The news comes as ICE rapidly moves to expand its detention capacity along the Mexican border, under instruction from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Built in 2006 with a maximum capacity of 3,000, the detention center was the largest in the country at the time —but it faced problems immediately.

Attorneys and immigration advocates revealed that undocumented immigrants were held up to 23 hours a day in the center's 10 windowless tents, and reported insufficient food, medical attention, clothing, and access to telephones, all within a year of the facility opening.

The problems continued in 2007, when in July officials discovered maggotsin the inmates' food supplies. Though officials called the incident a one-time occurrence, inmates complained the next month of mold, flooded toilets, and infestations of insects and rodents.

Inmates also claimed they were being given dirty underwear and towels for use, as well as shoes and socks with holes.  The American Bar Association reported some detainees "indicated that they had been instructed not to say anything negative to the delegation about the facility."

The facility earned the disparaging moniker "Ritmo" during this time, because it was "like Gitmo, but it's in Raymondville," said immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin, using the nickname for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 

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The facility was shuttered in 2015 after inmates revolted and set fire to three of its tents, leaving the center uninhabitable — a "welcome but long overdue move," the ACLU said at the time.

However, critics are now worried about its potential re-opening.

"To reopen this troubled private prison would be a giant step backwards," said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based social justice group that opposes private prisons, in a statement.