Willacy guards to receive $21M in back pay checks beginning Tuesday

The last 2-and-a-half years for Rafael Cepeda Jr. haven't been the best.

"I had to move back home with my parents... Had to go with a different car... Christmas hasn't been that great so far... Birthdays... Having to cut down a lot... Grocery shopping... It's been really tough," he explained.

Rafael is one of about 1,700 former guards of the Raymondville immigrant detention center owed money as part of a settlement agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, according to county documents.

In 2008, the Department of Labor required MTC, the company operating the facility, to pay guards at federal wages.

But many lost their jobs in the process because they could not pass a required credit or background check, according to Willacy County Judge John Gonzales.

More than 21 million dollars in back pay have been in limbo ever since.

"A lot of people did lose their homes... Lose their vehicles... It's been really bad... A lot of guys got divorced," Rafael said.

John Gonzales has been fighting, along with other county and state leaders, to ensure everyone once employed at the facility received their share of back pay from 2006-2008.

"Washington D.C. has finally felt the tenacity of our little town," the county judge said. "I think we've been heard... Our voice has been heard now all the way to Washington."

A schedule has finally been released for checks to be picked up at the old ICE facility.

Former employees can get theirs between 12 and 5 on Tuesday, 8 and 5 Wednesday to Friday and 8 to 12 on Saturday.

Current guards will receive checks after 4pm on Tuesday.

Everyone needs a valid picture ID and their social security number.

"A good majority of these people are still looking for jobs and they have their family's... They have their children that they have to feed and clothe," Judge Gonzales said.

Rafael has been able to find work but at a lower pay.

He says the near 20 grand he's owed will go a long way towards rebuilding a life he's always wanted for his family.

"I thank everyone who helped us get our money."