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Neighbors' pleas to planning commission stop immigration facility for now

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Posted at 10:37 PM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 23:41:26-05

WACO, TX — The Waco Plan Commission may have stopped a proposal to put an immigration detention center for teenage boys in East Waco.

The group voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend denial of a permit for a company called Visionquest for the project.

Laura Gonzales says she's worried about the peace and quiet of her neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is very quiet and very good. We don't have problems," she explained.

She fears a proposal from Visionquest to turn an old nursing home down the street into an immigration detention center for teenage boys could bring plenty of trouble.

Visonquest aims to hire 120 people to house and supervise 88 boys between the ages of 11 to 17 for 24-hours a day for up to three months under a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

So neighbors aired their concerns to the Waco Plan Commission.

"Not that anyone was against providing a safe space for kids who are separated from their parents," said Jed Cole with the Waco Plan Commission

Most agreed they want humane conditions for migrants, but at least two groups have tried to turn this building, which has been vacant for 20 years, into a detention center for teenagers. Every time neighbors have managed to fight it off. How?

”I think that the neighborhood, as many of the people mentioned last night, has seen a lot of these facilities end up congregating in their part of town, and I think, right there, there's a little bit of a lack of appetite for adding another one,” Cole explained.

Other detention centers, the county jail, the school truancy center already call that side of the river home.

Even promises of enhanced security did little to entice neighbors.

"That nursing home, they don't have a fence, you know, like a good fence. They can jump and then come break in houses," Gonzales said.

She believes someplace in Texas will surely want and benefit from the detention center more than East Waco.

The proposal will now move to the Waco City Council, which will need a super-majority to approve the permit.