ICE pulls plug on immigration detention center in Southwest Ranches

Federal officials announced late Friday that they are no longer considering Southwest Ranches as the site of a future immigrant detention facility.

06/15/2012 5:00 AM

06/16/2012 12:27 AM

Federal government officials have abandoned plans to build an immigrant detention center in Southwest Ranches, authorities announced late Friday, bringing to a close a year-long fight by local residents and others opposed to the facility.

The announcement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which would have staffed the detention center, was terse and offered little explanation for the decision.

“ICE has reevaluated its need for an additional detention facility in South Florida and has decided that it will no longer pursue a facility in the Town of Southwest Ranches,’’ read a written statement sent by Nestor Yglesias, an ICE spokesman in Miami. “We are examining our options for additional detention space in the region and will make the appropriate notifications when a decision about the way forward has been made.”

Torres declined to say if the agency is considering other South Florida locations for a detention center, or if ICE has decided that it has enough beds in the region.

For more than a year, ICE has said the Southwest Ranches location was at the top of its list to build one of the nation’s largest facilities to hold immigrant detainees. The proposed plan included at least 1,500 beds and 500,000-square-feet of space.

Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison contractor vying to bring the detention center to Southwest Ranches, issued a written response through Steve Owen, a company spokesman:

“One of the greatest values we offer our government partners is the flexibility to meet their changing circumstances,’’ Owen’s statement read. “We understand ICE’s decision not to proceed with a civil detention facility. We are grateful for ICE’s tentative selection of our site and Southwest Ranches’ interest in partnering with CCA.’’

CCA owns the approximately 24-acre property just east of U.S. 27 between Sheridan Street and Stirling Road in Southwest Broward where the detention center would have been built. The company has been working with Southwest Ranches town leaders since about 2005 to bring the facility to Southwest Broward.

ICE’s Friday night announcement was welcomed by neighboring Pembroke Pines commissioners, who have been opposed to the center being built in an area that includes a county landfill and a state prison but also thousands of homes and several schools.

“We don’t want that stuff in Pembroke Pines,’’ said Iris Siple, a Pembroke Pines commissioner.

“It was not a very popular idea here,’’ said Angelo Castillo, another Pembroke Pines commissioner. “In fact, that’s understating it. It was a dreaded idea.”

Castillo said the local “outcry” against the detention center was so large that the federal government must have taken notice.

But he added that ICE’s statement suggests the agency abandoned the idea simply because the U.S. government realized it already had enough detention beds.

South Florida is already home to the Krome Service Processing Center and the Broward Transitional Center.

Krome, which has 581 beds, is divided into three pods for detainees with serious or criminal backgrounds and six dormitories for nonviolent detainees. The Broward Transitional Center has capacity for 700 and houses those with less serious or no criminal history.

“In the end, they decided they didn’t need it,” Castillo said. “We welcome that decision.”

All five of Pembroke Pines’ commissioners have publicly expressed their opposition to the facility’s location, which would be surrounded almost entirely by Pembroke Pines.

They voted together in March to file a lawsuit against CCA, and to send a letter to President Barack Obama in January asking him to intervene in the selection of a site. The White House never replied.

The city also has spent nearly $125,000 in legal costs since September fighting the center and defending itself from a CCA lawsuit.

CCA counted with a federal lawsuit against Pembroke Pines in March, one day after Pembroke Pines commissioners voted to cancel a contract to provide fire-rescue, emergency medical, water and sewer services to the facility.

Pembroke Pines commissioners also had voted to hire an outside attorney to file a lawsuit against CCA in state court requesting a declaratory judgment, or a judge’s ruling, that would resolve the question of whether Pembroke Pines would have been legally required to provide water and sewer service to the proposed detention center.

But CCA beat the city to the punch. The next morning, the company filed a lawsuit against Pembroke Pines in federal court.

CCA’s lawsuit asked a judge to order Pembroke Pines to cease attempts to block the proposed detention center, and to provide water and sewer service to the facility.

The lawsuit also asked that Pembroke Pines pay CCA for any profits the company loses as a result of the city’s efforts to block the facility from being built.

It is unclear how ICE’s decision will affect CCA’s lawsuit against Pembroke Pines.

Owen, the CCA spokesman, said in an email that the company’s lawsuit has not been affected.

“We have no change in the status of our complaint to report,’’ he wrote. “We will continue to assess any developments with our legal representatives.’’

Some residents and activists opposed to the facility reacted to ICE’s announcement with a call to meet up Friday night at a tiki bar on U.S. 27 near Griffin Road.

Kathy Bird, a South Florida organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group, and campaign coordinator for the “CCA Go Away” campaign, said President Obama’s Friday announcement regarding deferred deportation of young immigrants meshed perfectly with ICE’s abandoning the proposed facility in Southwest Ranches.

“Having ICE walk away from this detention center is definitely a step in the right direction,” she said. “This shows that our government is listening to us, finally. That’s at least how I feel today.”

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