A group of protesters met with Thomas Gilligan, dean of the McCombs School of Business, on Monday to ask him to request the school’s namesake, Red McCombs, break his real estate firm’s lease that will pave the way for the construction of the biggest immigrant detention facility in the nation.
The real estate firm, Koontz McCombs, signed the lease with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Corrections Corporation of America to build the facility in Dilley, Texas. The facility, named the South Texas Family Detention Center, projects a capacity of 2,400 detainees and is part of a government effort to address the surge of children and families illegally immigrating to the U.S.
The group of protestors, which included students, sought to speak with the dean about the business school’s position on the subject. Cristina Parker, immigration projects coordinator at Grassroots Leadership and one of the six protesters who spoke with Gilligan, said one of her main concerns was McCombs’ involvement with the facilities.
“I think we all have a claim to UT as Texans, and we want to talk to him about our concerns,” Parker said. “It’s problematic for us that a man whose name is on the building is profiting from a modern day internment camp.”
Parker and other immigration advocates said detention facilities, which are located across the country, put the detainees through conditions that should be considered violations of human rights. Allegations of sexual assault and abuse led the Obama administration to end immigrant family detention at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which is also located in Texas and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.
“We felt really disgusted that such a big representative of UT is McCombs, and he is associated with this deal,” protester Claudia Munoz said. “We’re here to ask peacefully that the dean uses that relationship to tell [McCombs] that it’s his responsibility to stand up for immigrant families and children.”
According to Munoz, the dean told the group he will reach out to McCombs about the lease. She said Gilligan stated he is against the system of the detention centers and believes McCombs will listen to the claims of the protesters.
While University officials would not confirm what Gilligan said during the meeting, UT spokesman J.B. Bird said Gilligan shared the protesters’ concerns with McCombs.
Munoz, who was detained in Detroit for 20 days, said she is proof that the stereotype of detainees in the facilities being criminals is false because she has a clean criminal record. According to Munoz, McCombs’ relationship with the facility could compromise the integrity of the University.
“To think that children would have to be put through that experience is horrifying,” Munoz said. “We have a deep investment in making sure that UT remains the institution that my nephews and nieces want to go to school to.”
Dave Kalloor, a protester and UT alumnus, said he believes McCombs and University officials need to take into account the message they are sending if they play a role in the establishment of a facility that harms children and families.
“The motto of the University is ‘what starts here changes the world,’ but what McCombs needs to decide is whether he wants to change the world for the worse or the better,” Kalloor said.