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Prison officials began to transfer inmates out of the TDCJ Dolph Briscoe unit in Dilley last week in preparation for housing undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for state crimes.
The move comes as Governor Greg Abbott ramps up the state’s law enforcement presence on the border with Operation Lone Star, which links the Department of Public Safety with the National Guard and deploys air, ground, marine and tactical border security assets to high-threat areas.
The aim, according to a statement from state officials, is to deny smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.
According to Jeremy Desel, spokesman for Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), officials began transferring inmates housed at the Dolph Briscoe to other TDCJ facilities that have the capacity to hold them.
The all-male Dilley TDCJ prison was built in 1992 with a capacity of 1,384. Officials say all but 175 inmates will be relocated; those remaining at the Dilley facility are trustees used for maintenance, cafeteria work, and farming.
Immigrants housed in Dilley will include those who entered the country illegally and have been charged with state or federal crimes. Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott signed a law making is a state jail felony to trespass into Texas.
“The state of Texas continues to deal with a record-breaking influx of individuals illegally crossing the border,” Desel said. “To address the ongoing crisis, Gov. Abbott is directing state resources to arrest and confine those individuals crossing the border unlawfully and who have committed a state or federal crime.”
Officials were slated to begin housing immigrants Wednesday, June 23.
The Dilley facility does not have air conditioning, which is consistent with most prisons throughout the state. However, a law passed earlier this year requires all TDCJ units to have air conditioning by 2029, contingent on state funding.
All 230 TDCJ staff will continue to work at the facility; Wyndham School District, the learning facility inside the unit, will keep some of its staff and give others the option to transfer or retire.
TDCJ personnel have begun preparations for the immigrants by setting up make-shift courtrooms for adjudication hearings.
State officials have not confirmed how long the prison will operate as a holding facility for immigrants arrested on state or federal crimes; estimates range from less than thirty days up to five years.