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Some Residents Say They Always Opposed Prison With AM-Cubans Riot

November 23, 1987

OAKDALE, La. (AP) _ Many Oakdale residents say they never wanted the $17 million detention center where Cuban prisoners took hostages over the weekend, but Mayor George Mowad says they’ve forgotten recent history.

″I’ve always been against it,″ said Joe Odom, chatting with neighbors Sunday afternoon. ″Everybody I talk to agrees with that. We were told we would never know that place were there.″

″I don’t know anybody who likes this place,″ said Ella Rollins, whose brother-in-law, Donald Thompson, was among the guards and staff workers held hostage at the complex.

Other Oakdale residents said they’d never cared for it, either, prompting Mowad to say he wanted to set the record straight.

″We had total community support and 13 months of politicking with Oklahoma to get this facility,″ he told a news conference. ″Everybody is scared now. But they are forgetting what their support was when we started the push in 1981.″

The center was eagerly courted by rural Allen Parish as an antidote to unemployment which peaked in 1983 at 31 percent - the highest in Louisiana.

″You’re telling me the people wanted to go hungry here when they could get this employment,″ said Mowad.

Rollins said the federal government hadn’t followed through on its promises.

″They said it was going to be a temporary holding facility and it turned out to be a federal prison.

″It hasn’t helped the economy that much,″ she said. ″Only 50 of the 350 guards are home-town people. They told us our people were either not qualified or too old.″

Although it wasn’t the economic savior the town expected, Mowad has said the complex was the primary reason unemployment dropped below 15 percent in Allen Parish.

The complex, run jointly by the Bureau of Prisons and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, opened in March 1986 as a minimum security, short-term holding center for illegal aliens awaiting deportation hearings.

More than 2,500 illegal aliens passed through Oakdale in the first nine weeks after the detention center opened. Last October, authorities decided to change the center’s complexion.

″It was supposed to be just a detention center. Then they brang in those Cubans. There wasn’t supposed to be no Cubans,″ Smitty Willis said. One of his cousins was among the hostages, he said.

″I didn’t hear a single word of opposition about this center becoming a Cuban facility,″ Mowad said. ″I didn’t receive one negative phone call.″

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