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ICE transfers detainees out of West Texas facility after water shortage in Sierra Blanca

SIERRA BLANCA — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has transferred detainees out of a West Texas detention center after a water shortage forced the facility to use portable toilets and bottled water.

The shortage has forced the West Texas Detention Facility, operated by Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections, to turn off its water every night and outsource its laundry services since the shortage began Oct. 21.

The agency said it has transferred a number of detainees to other facilities in the El Paso area “To fully ensure the health, safety and welfare of those in our care."

It's unclear how many detainees were in the facility when the shortage began, but an agency spokesperson said that on any given day, the facility averages about 450 detainees.

LaSalle Corrections also houses local, state and federal inmates at its various facilities, according to the company’s website. Capacity at the West Texas Detention Facility is 1,053, but in 2018 the average daily population under supervision was 889 males and 245 females. It’s unclear whether non-ICE detainees will be transferred from the facility; a company spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.

The transfers come amid a dispute between Sierra Blanca and Van Horn over the water supply in the region.

Macario Marquez, the general manager of Hudspeth County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, which manages Sierra Blanca's water supply, told The Texas Tribune last week that Van Horn, about 30 miles away, has supplied Sierra Blanca with water for decades. But that’s changed under a new administration in Van Horn, and the agreement is in dispute, he said.

Van Horn officials declined to comment on the conflict and referred inquiries to their El Paso-based attorney, who also declined to provide specifics.

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On Thursday afternoon, employees at the Hudspeth County water management office in Sierra Blanca were preparing to replenish their local tanks with water trucked in from Fort Hancock, about 30 miles away. The haul was about 200,000 gallons, but it’s unclear how long it will last.

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Tom Barry for The Texas Tribune

The immigration detention facility is just outside of Sierra Blanca, about 100 miles east of El Paso.