State scouted for new ICE detention centers
Agency wants space to house 5,600 immigrant prisoners
As the Trump administration scrambles to process record levels of migrants apprehended at the U.S.Mexico border, federal immigration officials are looking to add new detention centers across California.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is scoping out locations for facilities near Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, as well as other areas in the state, to house about 5,600 detainees, according to a document the agency posted on a federal contracting website.
In a “request for information,” posted April 26, the agency said it’s looking to “identify potential detention facilities to hold criminal aliens and other immigration violators.” The potential sites could be existing facilities or land to be developed.
The move comes amid news reports Friday that the Trump administration plans to send hundreds of Central American migrants arrested
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring all acquisition options.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement
along the southern border to Border Patrol stations across the nation. That would include facilities along the northern border with Canada and coastal states.
Immigration officials this week sent the first flight of migrants from Texas to San Diego for processing. Officials also planned to send hundreds of migrants to Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Florida in the coming weeks, according to state officials, who said they don’t have resources to feed or house the influx of migrants. It’s unclear if that plan still stands.
ICE’s California site search follows several shakeups at detention centers across the state that could eventually lead to massive bed expansions — and much less transparency from the agency, according to immigration advocates.
Immigration officials across the country are struggling to keep up with the number of people coming across the border each day. A record-breaking 100,000 migrants were arrested at the southwest border from Texas to California in April, compared with an estimated 93,000 in March and 67,000 in February, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Several California cities and counties ended contracts with ICE in the past year, which led to the closure of detention centers in Richmond and Elk Grove (Sacramento County) and the loss of 434 beds. In other cases, ICE hired the private corporation GEO Group to keep the detention facilities open after local jurisdictions bowed out.
Critics have accused GEO, which operates detention facilities across the U.S., of pressuring local jurisdictions to end their partnerships with the agency so that the Floridabased company can contract directly with ICE. In California, that allows the corporation to sidestep a new state law that strictly regulates private forprofit prisons.
Under SB29, signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, local governments are barred from entering into new contracts with private prison companies such as GEO or modifying existing ones for the purpose of immigration detention. It also prohibits the expansion of private for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers across California.
“It seems that there was collusion from the outset between ICE and GEO so that they can circumvent SB29,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, an attorney and director of the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. “It seems to indicate that all these things are part of a larger push by ICE to make up for the bed space that they lost in the closure of the facilities.”
In the government document, ICE emphasized the inquiry for new facilities is “solely for information and planning purposes,” and said weighing new options for bed space is routine. The facilities must provide detention, medical and transportation services, and must be properly staffed to maintain a safe environment, the document says.
ICE’s definition of the San Francisco region is unusually broad. Facilities in the region would have to be within 75 to 180 miles of Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, San Francisco, Stockton, Morgan Hill and Redding, the document says.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring all acquisition options (which includes privately-operated) that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody,” ICE said in a statement Thursday.
The agency did not address questions about its contracts with GEO Group.
GEO Group did not reply to requests for comment.
County officials in Contra Costa and Sacramento ended their contracts with ICE last June, and hundreds of immigrants were transferred to other facilities.
In December, the city of McFarland announced it had ended its contract with the agency to run the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield. In that case, ICE entered a $19.4 million, one-year contract with GEO, avoiding a competitive bidding process under “unusual and compelling urgency.” The corporation previously owned and operated Mesa Verde under a subcontract with the city of McFarland in Kern County, which expired March 18.
Officials in Adelanto (San Bernardino County) abruptly ended their contract with ICE in March for the largest immigration detention facility in California, one marked by dozens of allegations of substandard living conditions, high suicide rates and poor treatment of inmates. The contract expires in June.
Above: Inmates prepare to be searched at the West County Detention Facility in Contra Costa County in 2017. Below: A protester waves toward cell windows at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles in 2018.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee Ana Henriquez sits in her cell in 2017 at the West County Detention Facility in Contra Costa County, which ended its ICE contract in June.