It’s not often that citizens are able to claim a victory against their government without replacing the people who comprise it. But today Corsicana and Navarro County residents did just that by demanding their local officials side with them against a lucrative federal government contract for housing illegal immigrants within the city.

At issue was a state-owned facility formerly used by the Texas Youth Commission to house juvenile offenders that was closed down three years ago despite the efforts of State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana). The closure led to large-scale job losses for Corsicana residents, frustrating many members of the community. Throughout his recent re-election campaign, Cook promised local officials and business leaders that he would find a use for the facility.

But he didn’t tell them his plan was to turn the facility into a pit stop for illegal immigrants.

According to sources in Corsicana, Cook’s lawyer, Terry Jacobson, who also represents Cook in his complaint against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, had been conducting off-the-record meetings with Cayuga Centers, a federal contractor, and various elected officials trying to build support for Cook’s plan. Under the proposal, the facility would have been converted into a holding station for up to 800 illegal immigrants at a time as they await judicial proceedings.

In an email to Corsicana citizens on July 8th, Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan called the Cook plan a “a very important opportunity” for Navarro County and the City of Corsicana. According to McClanahan, fully staffing the center would have brought 1,100 jobs to the area totaling $47 million in salaries annually.

“I am committed to the City to evaluate the details of this proposal and come to a conclusion of whether or not this is a positive program for the community. There will be additional information forthcoming as well as a public meeting on the subject,” McClanahan said in his email.

However, despite such lip service it appears McClanahan, Cook, and other officials had already made up their minds to support the plan.

On July 5th, three days before they unveiled the plan to the public, both McClanahan and Navarro County Judge H.M. Davenport wrote to State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Waco) saying they “wholeheartedly support and welcome the repurposing of the TJJD facility in Corsicana as temporary housing for unaccompanied minors.” They asked Birdwell to “please use all of [his] influence to facilitate the successful transfer and establishment of the facility in Corsicana.”

That request immediately drew a sharp rebuke from the Birdwell, who replied in a blistering letter that he would have no part in advocating for the project and had already made his objections known.

“[P]lease consider this letter as additional confirmation that as the duly-elected State Senator representing Navarro County, I will not support taxpayer-funded property being used as a revolving door facility for illegal immigrants,” responded Birdwell. “Regardless of how attractive the limited, short-term benefit such use of the property the federal government alleges will be provided to the city and/or the county, I will not validate the influx of illegal immigrants into a county I represent.”

Most local citizens agrees with Birdwell, wanting no part of accepting illegal immigrants into their city.

“What this country needs is for more people to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Ralph Gonzales, a spokesman for the Conservative Society of Navarro County. “How can we do that if we’re telling the government to do what it wants as long as we get a piece of the pie?”

Over the weekend, citizens overwhelmingly spoke out to demand that the facility not be used to house illegal immigrants. The outrage was so great, that only three days later the Navarro County Commissioners Court voted to cease negotiations with Cayuga Centers–effectively killing the project.

Citizens win when they are informed and speak up. Now citizens in Navarro County need to work to hold their elected officials accountable for hatching this plan in secret.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.