Biden's new executive order sparks controversy

By: Tanvi Varma

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Last year, when 33-year-old Hilder Lainez-Alvarez was arrested after crossing the border illegally, he was taken to the El Valle Detention Center in Raymondville, then the ICE Detention Center in Port Isabel.

The Nicaraguan native said that both detention centers were overcrowded, and that he contracted COVID-19 at the El Valle Detention Center.

Lainez-Alvarez says since he has severe asthma, he still hasn’t fully recovered.

“It's a lot of people there,” said Lainez-Alvarez. “It's a lot of people there, and they suffer. It's a lot of people there that got trauma; they got families outside."

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A spokesperson for ICE said Lainez-Alvarez was promptly provided with medical attention, saying in part, "ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency's custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care."

UTRGV Chair and Professor of Criminal Justice says private prisons have incentives to incarcerate more - and cut costs while doing it – which compromises the quality of care.

“The facilities may be questionable,” Crews said. “The training for the staff may be questionable, and we're taking people against their will, depriving them of their liberties, and incarcerating them. They have no choice where they go.”

A 2016 Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report stated that private prisons had more improper use of physical force, issues with inmate discipline, and sexual misconduct, amongst other claims.

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A spokesperson for MTC, the company that owns the El Valle Detention Center, said in a statement in part, "Blaming high incarceration rates on contractors is irresponsible because contractors have no say as to what laws are enacted and who is ultimately incarcerated."

The company added that any claim of misconduct at El Valle is unfounded, saying in part, "The private sector brings innovation and competition which results in better services at all federal correctional facilities including safety & security, medical care, education, vocational, substance abuse, and rehabilitation."

Meanwhile, Valley advocates remain cautiously optimistic that the Biden administration will be addressing issues involving private immigration detention centers.

“We're looking at thousands of people who are still going to be affected by this prison pipeline,” said Michelle Serrano with the Equal Voice Network. “It's a great opportunity to start the conversation.”

A White House spokesperson tells Channel 5 News that Biden’s executive order is just the first step, and that other reforms are coming in regards to immigration.


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