Protesters demonstrating against the Corrections Corporation of America/Southwest Ranches proposal (Pic by Marcos Restrepo)

In a new interview with The Florida Independent, Miguel Fuentes, the political director of the Florida Carpenters Regional Council, rejects charges by opponents of a proposed South Florida immigration detention center that he is a “lobbyist,” saying he supports the project because it will “create jobs that are sorely needed.”

In a press release issued Tuesday, opponents of the immigration detention center write that they “heard robocalls and town hall lobbying from Carperters Local 79 union talking about all those great construction jobs the tilt-up construction of the prison will provide. Carpenters’ lobbyist, Miguel Fuentes, told SWR town council that many of his members would lose their homes in foreclosure if they didn’t get this 12 month construction project.”

Fuentes tells the Independent he is not a lobbyist.

Residents of Pembroke Pines, Southwest Ranches have opposed the federally funded and privately managed immigration detention center since June, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it had chosen the Southwest Ranches/Corrections Corporation of America proposal in June.

The city of Pembroke Pines issued a letter to President Obama last week, asking that he intervene in “the siting” of the center. The Broward Group of the Sierra Club has also announced its opposition to the project.

Fuentes says that opponents have not addressed the jobs issue, saying that the detention center would get “hundreds of people working and off the unemployment rolls.”

“The project is well suited for the zoning purposes that the land is set aside for,” Fuentes says, adding that CCA is “proposing to put something there that would have minimal impact on all levels.”

“Keeping people who are highly skilled, well trained on unemployment and food stamps because somebody doesn’t want something built in their backyard is pretty selfish,” Fuentes says. “I never said my carpenters would lose their homes. What I said is that one in 200 homes in Broward County are in foreclosure. That means that there are a lot families suffering from the economic downturn who are unemployed.”

He adds the jobs in question would not be temporary, and the detention center would not only need carpenters but also require maintenance and kitchen personnel, laundry workers, janitors and security officers.

Fuentes says the center would house detainees who have not adhered to U.S. law and were tried, convicted and now will be “sent back to where they came from.”

“We are not talking about folks who are trying to earn an honest living, feed their family and help someone back home,” he says. “We are compassionate. We fight for those types people and worker’s rights all the time.”

Fuentes says the Carpenters Regional Council did not fund the robocalls, but that he personally recorded the call. ”I contacted Corrections Corporation of America and am working with CCA to make the recording,” he says, but he explains he “is not aware who paid for the the robocall.”

“I am participating in my freedom of speech with like-minded people to create jobs that are sorely needed,” he says.

Opponents add in their statement: “We tried to contact Miguel Fuentes [in the] late afternoon to figure out why they were getting involved in a fight against the people who live in west Broward county. Our call was not answered nor returned.”

Fuentes denies having received any calls from people who oppose the detention center, and says he is willing to talk with anybody about the project.

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