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Willacy County businesses impacted by detention center closure

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The closure of Willacy County's federal detention facility in Raymondville is impacting small businesses. 

Businesses aren't sounding the alarms quite yet, but they are worried because the company staffing the facility injects a lot of revenue into small businesses.

Although it may be some time before the facility could reopen, officials say its impact should be minimized by work already done.

Willacy County officials continue the work to reopen their detention center.

"It is a huge task and everybody involved is doing more than their part to get it done," said Willacy County Sheriff Joe Salazar.

Last Friday, 211 employees were sent home after an executive order from the Biden administration stopped the renewal of federal contracts with privately run prisons. It's a move that came after the Department of Justice Inspector General's office found privately operated prisons aren't safe for inmates or staff, forcing the company running the prison, MTC, to shut down operations in Raymondville and another facility in Garza County.

The order aims to reform prisons nationwide.

MTC pays out over $12.5 million in salaries, money that would be spent at places like Andrea's Cafe, a popular lunch spot for Raymondville residents.

"To the point where the customers have to wait a little bit because there's not enough tables," said Veronica Paz. 

While a post-COVID rebound has helped increase revenue, lots of the restaurant's customers are from the prison, Paz said. 

Like many businesses, Paz and her family are concerned about the future impact.

But that's something County Judge Aurelio Guerra says should be mitigated by economic development work done over the last twenty years.

"We already diversified as far as I'm concerned," Guerra said. "We have windmills that are bringing in revenues. We have the other detention facility."

"The effort of in economic development is ongoing every day with not only commissioners court but city leaders," Guerra continued. 

For Paz, it's not so much about the business, but the relationships she and the staff have built over years of serving locals that she hopes will return soon.

"Lots of them already know all the waitresses," Paz said. "They're very friendly. They love it here and we enjoy having them and their company here because they're really friendly."

Guerra added that they plan to continue meeting as they work to re-open the facility, but he stresses that it will take some time before they find a solution.

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