President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration has federal agencies scrambling to create thousands of new beds to hold potentially deportable immigrants, including in the Mountain West region.
At least three private prison contractors are putting their names under consideration for a possible new immigration detention facility in proximity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Salt Lake City, according to records made public by an immigrant rights nonprofit.
ICE issued a Request for Information (RFI) in October 2017 to “identify multiple possible detention sites to hold criminal aliens and other immigration violators” in Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City.
The Chicago-based nonprofit National Immigrant Justice Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March to find out which firms had submitted information to the agency.
“The detention system is already so large,” said Tara Tidwell Cullen, a spokesperson for NIJC. “There’s so much need for legal services that we already aren’t reaching everyone. We really have no idea how ICE intends to ensure that people who are locked up in new or larger facilities have access to lawyers and information they need in order to have a fair day in court.”
In a letter dated May 1, ICE confirmed the contractors that had responded. In the Salt Lake City region, those were Florida-based private prison GEO Group, Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, and the Nashville-based firm CoreCivic.
In its request for potential locations, ICE said each site must be capable of providing “detention, medical, and transportation services, including the physical structures, equipment, personnel, and vehicles.” Sites also had to be properly staffed.
According to the documents, MTC is proposing a newly constructed 640-bed facility in Evanston, Wyo., 83 miles from the Salt Lake office. GEO Group suggests annexing an existing Aurora, Colo., facility with 432 beds.
CoreCivic is proposing expanding the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, Nev., to accommodate 605 ICE beds, about 480 miles from Salt Lake and an hour from Las Vegas.
No cost information was provided by the companies. Reached for comment, all three contractors referred questions to ICE. An ICE spokesman declined to comment on the status of the procurement process.
“To maintain the integrity of the contracting process, ICE does not discuss contracts that may be in negotiation,” Carl Rusnok, an agency spokesman, wrote in an email.
If ICE proceeds, companies would be required to submit formal bids under strict federal contracting guidelines.
The proposals have already drawn the scrutiny of local activists, who staged a protest last month at MTC’s headquarters in Centerville, 15 miles north of Salt Lake.
Activist Tino Diaz was one of eight people arrested during the July 12 demonstration.
“We wanted to basically put them [MTC] on the map, and let people know that these institutions, these companies, these corporations … they are advocating and growing the detention of people — the detention of families, the separation of families,” he said.
Diaz said he and a coalition of other groups around the burgeoning “Abolish ICE” movement want to continue to raise awareness on immigrant detentions.