County officials and private prison companies have proposed a privately-run immigration jail for ICE on the bluffs rising in the background of this June 2018 photo. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement doubled the size of an immigration jail proposed for outside Evanston in an amended federal document last week, changing the upper limit on the number of beds from 500 to 1,000.

Since the proposal first emerged in June 2017, the facility — which ICE hopes to use to detain undocumented immigrants as they await immigration court proceedings in Salt Lake City — has been touted as a 500-bed facility. However, an official with the prison company Management Training Corporation, which originally brought the proposal to Evanston and largely drove the process before abruptly withdrawing, told WyoFile in October 2017 the jail would have the potential to expand to 1,000 beds.

The original Request for Proposals issued by ICE on July 17, 2019 sought proposals for facilities with 250-500 beds. Now, the proposal seeks a facility with “up to 1,000” beds, according to a version published online on Oct. 3.

Uinta County Commissioners, who have strongly backed an immigration jail in their county and been accused by opponents of lacking transparency, were not briefed on why the change to the RFP occurred, said commissioner Craig Welling in a brief phone interview on Monday. The change did not impact his positive view of the project, he said. 

A spokesperson for CoreCivic, the prison company that has replaced MTC as the project proponent, directed WyoFile to ICE for comment on the change. A spokesperson for ICE was unable to comment on the contracting process, she said. A request for further inquiry and comment went unanswered by press time. 

When the facility first surfaced, wrote advocacy group WyoSayNo organizer Antonio Serrano, it “was sold as a way to bring jobs to the area and diversity the economy. Very little was said about the lives that would be held inside. Now, two years later, the size of ICE’s proposed immigration prison has doubled to a facility that could hold 1,000 people.”

Opponents of the proposed immigration jail gather in Evanston on Aug. 18 for the second Fiesta de Familias held by the advocacy group WyoSayNo. (WyoSayNo Facebook account)

While Uinta County and Wyoming barrel towards opening an immigration jail, Serrano wrote, other states are going in the opposite direction. “We can’t help but think that the increased size of the proposed immigration prison is related to the recent bans of private prisons in states like California and Illinois,” Serrano wrote. “We need a nation-wide ban on new immigration prison construction so these facilities are not simply pushed into rural communities.”

Serrano again called for more transparency from local officials. “Despite the public opposition to the proposed immigration prison,” he wrote, “Uinta County officials have been working hard to ensure it gets built – no matter what the size – while neglecting to inform the community about what exactly they have been doing.”

New prison company steps in

On Aug. 9, shortly after that Management Training Corporation appears to have withdrawn its interest in the project, the federal agency put the contracting process on hold.

More than a month later, on Sept. 27, the agency increased the number of beds it was asking for, according to dates documented on the federal contracting website fedbizopps.gov. But the RFP remained on hold until it was republished on Oct. 2.

ICE also extended the deadline for submitting proposals to Nov. 30. The previous deadline was Sept. 13. 

As ICE was recalibrating the contracting process, private prison company CoreCivic was courting Evanston and Uinta County officials, interviews and documents show.

Management Training Corporation walked away from the jail idea sometime in late July, informing county commissioners that it was not going to submit a proposal in response to ICE’s request, according to communications first provided to WyoFile by the group WyoSayNo, which opposes the jail. The commissioners did not inform the public of the company’s withdrawal, choosing not to issue a press release after Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson advised them against it.

An MTC spokesperson told WyoFile in an email the company was backing off to focus instead on other aspects of its business. Emails with Uinta County Commissioners, obtained by WyoFile through a records request, show the company also faced protests over immigration detainment, including one incident on July 12 when protesters chained themselves to doors and each other to block entrance to the company’s corporate office in Centerville, Utah. The company’s immigrant detention business was never politically popular in the Salt Lake City area, which helped prompt it to eye neighboring Wyoming. 

On Aug. 16, Uinta County Commissioner Mark Anderson told WyoFile that local officials would be traveling to California to inspect some of CoreCivic’s facilities. Officials made a similar trip to view MTC immigration jails earlier in the process. 

The three county commissioners, Howieson and Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson made that trip Aug. 21-22, according to copies of the airline tickets obtained through a records request. They were joined by Gary Welling, head of the Uinta County Planning and Development Office. The email shows the trip was planned at least as early as Aug. 9, weeks before the public learned one company had withdrawn its support and that commissioners were communicating with a new company.

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Residents first learned that MTC had withdrawn its support at a WyoSayNo rally on Aug. 18. The public first learned of CoreCivic’s interest and the county’s trip to California when WyoFile published the information on Aug. 19. Commissioners intended to visit CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Center facility outside San Diego, Anderson said at the time. In an email, Hutchinson confirmed the officials visited that facility.

The flights to San Diego cost $1,607 in total. Local government footed the bill for that trip. The county paid for the cost of the commissioners’ and county officials’ travel and the city paid for its officials, Hutchinson said. 

A photograph posted to Google of a CoreCivic immigration jail in Otay Mesa, near the border with Mexico. (Peter Kinally/Google)

Since their trip, CoreCivic’s fortunes took a dramatic downturn in California. On Sept. 11, that state’s legislature voted to ban for-profit prisons from operating in the state, including ICE detention centers. The bill still awaited California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature as of Monday. 

It is the understanding of county commissioners, and suggested by the RFP, that the jail would hold undocumented immigrants arrested by ICE in the region, as opposed to those detained seeking asylum the border. 

“Historically, the Salt Lake City … detained population is mainly criminal alien,” the RFP reads. The “criminal alien” designation largely applies to people arrested within the United States, according to ICE’s website.

Despite the delay in the proposal submission deadline, ICE still hopes to award the contract in April 2020, and the facility will need to be operational “no later than 26 months after award,” according to the RFP. At its latest, therefore, Evanston could see an immigration jail built and operational on sagebrush-covered bluffs above Bear River State Park as early as August of 2022.

 

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. The Chinese worked for less money than their white counterparts, and many died in the process. Living conditions were poor at best.

    Sound familiar?

    Immigrants, legal or not, are rarely paid prevailing wages in Wyoming. You won’t read an in depth story in Wyofile about how the visa system is manipulated dishonestly in Jackson Hole for personal gain by the business community with the aid of the government. The liberals who pretend to care about the immigrants in our state throw immigrants under the bus the minute immigrants can no longer be easily exploited for economic gain. We will look the other way at their suffering until one is killed in a trench or falls off a roof.

    Profiting off of immigrants to enrich yourself and maintain your lifestyle is a typical self-serving agenda that is perfectly inline with that of the detention centers, and the Town of Evanston. Really, they have the same agenda as you. Exploit immigrant hardships for personal gain. The Town of Jackson is the showroom for this activity.

    Detention centers do have a legitimate purpose. It’s not like we actually have open borders and no immigration laws. Be it a federal or private, the opponents would complain about any detention center, and probably complain if it only housed dangerous felons.

    Wyoming would do well to welcome legal immigrants who are paid prevailing wages and supported to the same degree as everyone else. I am not so sure low-wage unskilled immigrants are the way to go. We already have an affordable housing crisis. They would exasperate it. Perhaps van-life people should be encouraged to move here and live in their vans (currently illegal in most communities).

  2. Why don’t we just combine this ICE detention camp and the nuclear waste storage site into the same facility so we can show the world that anything you want in Wyoming can in fact be easily bought if you call it ” economic development” . Our 150 year experiment with cattle, timber, and coal just isn’t paying dividends these days . Just don’t insult us by suggesting we go all in on Alternative Energy …

    … he says only semi facetiously. My beloved home state of Wyoming seems chronically challenged to cope with the 20th and 21st centuries.

  3. So Uinta county officials went from wanting to contract with MTC, the third largest corrections operator with a history of human rights violations, to wanting to contract with CoreCivic, the largest corrections operator with a history of human rights violations:
    https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/20/us-poor-medical-care-deaths-immigrant-detention
    CoreCivic is a real estate investment trust, meaning their profits largely go to shareholders, and the company borrows money to refinance existing debt. Their operations are for-profit, generated by suffering, and these profits do not go to the communities they operate in.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/10/03/wall-street-pulled-its-financing-stocks-have-plummeted-private-prisons-still-thrive/.
    Additionally, this company is the defendant in a number of federal civil rights lawsuits related to overcrowding, misidentifying criminal and non-criminal detainees, sexual assault, and medical negligence which lead to the death of a detainee, forced labor and employee discrimination:
    https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/corecivic-has-history-of-complaints-violations/article_9355aa57-8309-56f6-9072-1e2f8e035a3c.html
    That particular center that the officials visited in San Diego, CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, has had three lawsuits filed this year alleging medical negligence resulting in the death of a detainee, forced labor and employee discrimination.
    In addition to being morally reprehensible, this facility would not help the people in this state.

  4. County’s in favor of this should pay commissioners to go visit the new Heart Mountain Museum between Powell and Cody.

  5. 1000? Wouldn’t even hold half of the ‘illegal’ immigrants in Jackson.

    Build a jail to exploit their illegal status for economic gain. Employ them to depress labor expenses for economic gain. Provide sanctuary, (Teton County), to keep the sales taxes flowing for economic gain (and assuage liberal guilt).

    Do we count jailed aliens as residents on the census? If so, economic gain.

    No matter, they are always an economic engine for the state of Wyoming.

    I fail to see what all the fuss is about. I don’t think much of private prisons but if there was ever a perfect place for one, Evanston comes to mind.

    1. George, you’re right! Immigrants have always been an economic engine, not just for Wyoming (remember who built the railroads) but for the entire country. So why do you want them to be put into prison, man, woman and child?

      1. Bingo… Never mind the flag wavers in the State of Wy., Like every “Red” state it is full of Fascists. Particularly now that they have been given the “Ok” by the despot in the WH with his tales of dire threats to the “American” way of life. You bet, those Women, Children (Babies too !!). the Old and Infirm are surely a “Clear and Present Danger……. ” Hey, the same man has declared virtually anyone outside of his “platform” as Enemies of the State, Country, his “fellow Americans… ” (His bund,….)

        1. Caleb Grunfeld says:

          “Bingo… Never mind the flag wavers in the State of Wy., Like every “Red” state it is full of Fascists. Particularly now that they have been given the “Ok” by the despot in the WH with his tales of dire threats to the “American” way of life. You bet, those Women, Children (Babies too !!). the Old and Infirm are surely a “Clear and Present Danger……. ”

          Wyoming has very few people who favor fascism, racism, or any other negatively-framed name-calling ‘ism’ despite the desire of liberals to wish it were so. If you can’t make a case for your beliefs, try name calling. That’s all you got?

          You do know that the Obama administration (“Deporter in Chief” – remember?) locked up families in private detention centers? And children, often unaccompanied minors, were kept in ‘cages’ ?

          I would imagine that the facility in Evanston is most likely going to be used to hold felons first and foremost. We are not going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants or house them in a 1000-bed facility anytime soon. Most of the immigrants in Jackson – where most of the state’s illegal immigrant population lives – are not being rounded up unless they end up in jail beforehand. Same for the immigrants along the Wasatch Range.

          I will assume that you are for open borders and no immigration laws. That’s wonderful. Everyone can have an opinion.

          If you are against the prison because it does a horrible job of treating their occupants like hotel guests, try taking a look at prisons that house American citizens. Besides taking parents away from their children, those are often far worse places than any detention center housing immigrants. Sure, private prisons and detention facilities should do better. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose, or that felons deserve better. As for non-felon immigrants who are locked up while we decide what to do with them, I would rather have them on an ankle monitor. That would save the expense of a private prison. Let their families pay a bond to bail ’em out. Let their families support them. I don’t want my tax dollars doing that.