July 22, 2008

Border Patrol won't stop motorists in Sarita

July 22, 2008 - 9:28PM
Fernando Del Valle
Valley Morning Star

RAYMONDVILLE -- Preparations for Tropical Storm Dolly include plans by the federal government for thousands of illegal immigrants in custody at the detention center.

But U.S. Border Patrol agents at the Sarita checkpoint will not stop motorists evacuating from a hurricane, an official said Monday.

"We're not going to be stopping people and asking where they're from," said Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Washington, D.C. "We don't want to slow the evacuation process. Life is paramount at this point."

Forecasters projected Tropical Storm Dolly would strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall Wednesday morning somewhere along the South Texas coast.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have a "contingency plan" to evacuate detainees from the 3,000-bed detention center of tent-like domes, in Raymondville, officials said.

"The government carefully monitors wind speed and, if they have to, they are capable of moving inmates. That's a last resort," said Carl Stuart, spokesman for Management and Training Corp., the company that operates the detention center for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Stuart said he did not have information available to determine whether the domes could withstand hurricane winds.

But developers said in 2006, when the detention center opened, that the domes were built to withstand "hurricane force winds."

Stuart said security concerns prevented him from disclosing the conditions under which officials would order an evacuation of detainees.

Officials would transport detainees to other detention centers in Texas, said Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio.

Rio Grande Valley residents who plan to evacuate could travel on Expressway 77 as far north as State Highway 186.

At that point, authorities would detour traffic from the expressway to west SH 186 in Raymondville, said Amy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation in Pharr.

But authorities would not use roadblocks to physically shut down Expressway 77 because hurricane winds could turn the barriers into debris, she said.

In Raymondville, city officials in this low-lying area began distributing sandbags at 9 a.m. Monday, said Mary de la Garza, a clerk at City Hall.

Residents can pick up sandbags at City Hall, where officials are limiting six bags per person, she said.

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