Activists want environmental review for proposed immigration detention center

By | 11.10.11 | 4:42 pm

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Pic by The National Guard, via Flickr)

A letter sent to Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano Tuesday argues that an immigration detention center to be built in South Florida does not comply with National Environmental Policy Act rules for federal agencies.

Residents of Pembroke Pines and the town of Southwest Ranches have voiced opposition to the federally funded and privately managed detention center since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it had chosen the Southwest Ranches/Corrections Corporation of America (commonly known as CCA) proposal in June. Citizens have even called for the resignation of Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson, a vocal supporter of the detention center.

The letter (.pdf) sent by Florida Legal Services, a legal service organization representing the Florida Immigrant Coalition, states that at a Nov. 5 community forum ICE’s Gary Mead said the agency ” had no intention of performing an environmental review and was not required to do so.”

In a press release, the Florida Immigrant Coalition “demands that ICE stop negotiations with SW Ranches and CCA until they abide by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and conduct a full, fair, honest and public environmental review.”

The letter adds that the CCA representatives who attended the community forum concurred with Mead, saying that the National Environmental Policy Act “does not apply at this private facility.”

CCA Senior Director for Public Affairs Steven Owen writes to The Florida Independent:

This facility will be built, funded and owned by CCA and not the federal government. As such, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) does not apply. The site has all required permits – including environmental reviews by state and local agencies, and is in an approved industrial park surrounded by industrial development (including a county landfill). The site has no wetlands, no threatened/endangered species and an archeological survey confirmed no cultural issues.

Owens adds: “As a reminder, should ICE decide to contract for detention beds/services in the area, they would do so with the Town of Southwest Ranches. It would then be up to the Town to contract with CCA if they want to use the facility we build on our site to meet any obligations they enter into with ICE.”

Detention Watch Network indicates that in 2009, 383,524 immigrants were detained, costing taxpayers $1.7 billion at an average of $122 a day per bed. The Network also points out that 49 percent of those beds were privately managed.

According to the Network, CCA is the largest private immigration detention contractor in the country, and “spends the most on federal lobbying, totaling $18,002,000 from 1999 to 2009. The bulk of this was between 2003 and 2007, when CCA spent between $2,020,000 and $3,800,000 each year, averaging over $3 million per year.”

Detention Watch Network writes that “the impact of these lobbying practices has been deeply felt on many fronts, from detention expansion to border militarization.”

Citing prior legal cases, Florida Legal Services states:

Clearly this project is a “federal action”. The regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) define “federal actions” to include “projects and programs entirely or partly financed, assisted, conducted, regulated, or approved by federal agencies.”

The letter also adds that, “virtually since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act federal prison or detention facilities have been subjected to environmental review.”

ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias tells the Independent through an email that “ICE has received the letter and it is currently being reviewed. Once reviewed, a written response will be sent to the Florida Legal Services specifically addressing their concerns.”

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