Rural Arizona town to manage large federal immigrants’ facility in Texas

Nov 8, 2014, 8:08 AM | Updated: 8:08 am

Construction has begun on the largest immigrant detention facility in the U.S., and according to a report, a small Arizona town will be managing and operating it.

The South Texas Family Residential Center is being erected about 85 miles north of Mexico, and it’s planned to be a detention camp for female and child immigrants who have arrived in the U.S. illegally from Central America. The complex’s modular buildings will eventually hold 2,400 detainees, who will technically be in the custody of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, NPR reports.

The day-to-day operations of the jail will be handled by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company. But the contract and the money to run it will go to the town of Eloy, Ariz., two states — about 931 miles — away.

Watchdogs who monitor for-profit immigrant jails say they’ve never seen anything quite like it..

An ICE spokesman told the network that it was “a creative response to a difficult situation,” meaning it could have taken 18 months to get the facility up and running if the government would have gone through the traditional bidding process.

The facility is part of a larger plan by President Obama and his Cabinet to respond quickly to the humanitarian crisis at the border. At its peak in June, nearly 26,000 unaccompanied minors and single women with children were caught at the border; most surrendered to Border Patrol agents. Those numbers have dropped dramatically since the summer, but the Central Americans are still coming.

Washington wants to send a clear message of deterrence back to Central America: Don’t make the journey. Dilley [the town in which the new facility will be located] is the third new “residential center” ICE has opened in recent months to detain families and swiftly deport them if their asylum claims fail.

The deal between ICE and Eloy is called an Intergovernmental Services Agreement. These types of deals are unique in that they don’t require competitive bidding. In this case, Eloy was already acting as the contractor for a large ICE immigrant jail located in that Arizona city. So last month, the Eloy City Council modified its existing agreement with ICE to add a second detention facility in Texas, also to be managed by CCA.

The new detention center is not meant to feel like a traditional jail: It will have playrooms, a snack bar, a soccer field and no razor wire on the exterior fence.

“They’re not going to be incarcerated; they’re just going to be detained for a while and then go on to where they’re going,” Frio County Commissioner Pepe Flores told NPR.

The number of detainees, counting the state prison nearby, will soon constitute half of Dilley’s population. The good news is the new immigrant facility is expected to create 600 jobs, as well as more sales taxes and bigger property tax revenues.

“I know we will be a lot better off financially than Eloy, but Eloy doesn’t have to lift a finger to make that amount of money,” Noel Perez, a Dilley city administrator, told NPR.

Located between Phoenix and Tucson, Eloy, Ariz., was also a dying little agricultural city when Corrections Corp. of America came to town. Now the private prison giant is the biggest employer in Eloy, with four lockups: three prisons and the Eloy Detention Center, an ICE jail for immigrants.

ICE will reportedly send Eloy $290 million for the first year’s expenses of the South Texas facility. The town will pass that payment to the CCA to run the detention center, and the CCA pays Eloy $438,000 a year to act as its accountant.

Eloy officials will have nothing to do with operations in Dilley. In fact, they don’t even plan to visit South Texas. (Harvey) Krauss, the city manager, says CCA will represent Eloy and fulfill all the federal rules to ensure detainees are properly cared for.

The first detainees are expected to be brought to the Dilley detention facility in December.

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Rural Arizona town to manage large federal immigrants’ facility in Texas