Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced they will begin construction on the largest immigration detention facility to date near Dilley, in southern Texas. The facility, previously part of a community used to house oilfield workers, will be transformed into a detention center which will eventually accommodate up to 2,400 people. The facility has been contracted by the government to be operated by none other than the town of Eloy, Arizona.
The small town of Eloy in Arizona, population of about 16,000, is home to one of a number of ICE detention centers across the United States. The Eloy detention center houses more than 1,500 immigrants, and is run not by the government, but by the for-profit private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Now, the town of Eloy itself will act as contractor for the new Texas facility, over 900 miles and two states away.
Typically, the federal government's bidding process for such detention facilities may take over a year. In part of the government's desire to fast-track detention and deportation of the thousands of immigrant men, women, and children, the regular bidding process was bypassed in order to get the facility finished quickly.
CCA operates a number of prisons, and more than ten immigration detention facilities all across the U.S., including the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, Arizona. CCA will also be taking care of the daily operation of the new Texas family detention facility, however the contract itself, and millions of dollars to run the camp will go to Eloy.
This creative contracting is not a standard way of doing business, even for the largest private prison company in the United States. According to Ranjana Natarajan, director of the Civil Rights Law Clinic at the University of Texas, “when state or local entities decide to host a jail for ICE, it's a jail that's within their boundaries.” Natarajan continued, “but here, the city of Eloy can't say with a straight face it has anything to do with the operation of that facility because it's hundreds of miles away.”
Authorities have indicated that the move was necessary to get the facility opened in time to start detaining immigrant women and children by the end of the year. The government will pay $290 million to CCA by way of Eloy to operate the facility. In exchange for acting as a conduit for the government money, Eloy will receive over $400,000.
According to Eloy's city manager, Harvey Krauss, “we just, for the most part, serve as a fiscal agent, and they hold us totally harmless with no liability for the operations.” Illness and death is a regular occurrence in detention facilities. Over a dozen prisoners of the Eloy detention facility have died while in custody, more than any other detention center in the country.
The project appears to be a win-win-win for ICE, CCA and the town of Eloy. However; not everyone is so pleased with the way the three cooperated to bypass the standard bidding process. Although in support of the project, and the prospect of local jobs, Pro Tem Mayor of Dilley, Ray Aranda has complained that it is local taxpayers who will incur costs of the new facility, but an Arizona town will be compensated for the detention center.