Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo tells The Florida Independent that as an immigrant and an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform he abhors the proposed immigration detention center to be built on a lot surrounded by his city.
Castillo calls the debate over the detention center “the toughest issue that our city has ever faced in it’s history.”
“Nobody in Pembroke Pines wants to see this detention center come,” he says, “but we haven’t been able to figure out a strategy for stopping it, and I reach out to anyone in the community if they can think of some sort of strategy that can help us with this.”
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 proposal in June.
According to Detention Watch Network, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) “operates a total of 14 ICE-contracted facilities” with close to 15,000 beds. “In 2009, CCA averaged a daily population of 6,199 detained immigrants.”
Castillo proposed hiring independent legal counsel to “advise on any method legally available to oppose the prison,” during a Wednesday night workshop on the detention center.
“There have been questions about if we’ve been getting the right legal advice,” Castillo says. “Governments can’t operate around clouds of residents not believing the legal opinions they’re receiving. And I think this situation warrants the extraordinary step of seeking independent counsel to verfiy whether or not the information that we are being given from the city attorney is complete or not.”
Castillo says he believes there is enough time for independent counsel to review the city attorney’s legal advice before the Southwest Ranches and CCA proposal is given final approval by ICE: “Hopefully my colleagues will support it; it will cost us a little bit of money, but it is money well spent.”
“It could be that a new set of eyes on the problem finds an angle that wasn’t originally detected. It could be that the end result is confirmation that what our city attorney has been saying is accurate,” Castillo says. His motion will de voted on at a Dec. 21 city commission meeting.
According to residents opposed to the detention center at the Wednesday night workshop:
Discussing the fire agreement with the town of Southwest Ranches, the entire commission came under scathing fire from local residents. There was a near unanimous belief that commissioners Shechter, Mcklusky, Castillo and Mayor Ortis are running interference for [Southwest Ranches] and CCA for this prison.
Castillo defended himself repeatedly for his negotiation of terms of surrender with CCA and working to give us the best possible prison we can get.
The city government was told in no uncertain terms to do what they were elected to do and that is protect the residents of pines against the assault by SWR and CCA on west Broward.
The detention center would be built on land administered by Southwest Ranches and owned by CCA, but surrounded by residential areas of Pembroke Pines and unincorporated Broward County.
“What we have here is a land use issue, which is immediately a legal issue, about property rights,” Castillo says. ”In this case you have Southwest Ranches seeking to have built in their city limits by CCA a detention center, within immediate proximity of Pembroke Pines, and you have Pembroke Pines residents coming to city hall asking us to intervene, and that is a conundrum because in Florida there is home rule authority and every city has the sovereign right to conduct land use within their city limits.”
“Residents misunderstand and confuse legal limitations with other motivations,” Castillo tells the Independent. “The land in Southwest Ranches is zoned for the use; it could actually be a prison, let alone a detention center.”
Pembroke Pines signed an agreement in June to supply fire and rescue services to the center. Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Iris Siple proposed in October to renegotiate the contract because residents were not given the chance to discuss language that obligates Pembroke Pines to supply water and sewage to the detention center.
“If we were to cancel that [fire rescue] agreement,” Castillo says, it “would involve a great deal of financial loss to the residents of the city,” because “we’re talking about many millions of dollars over the years.”
“We entered into a fire rescue agreement that required us to hire 14 new firefighters in order to provide service to Southwest Ranches,” Castillo says, adding that now the city could be facing a financial loss if that agreement falls through. Pembroke Pines would still have to pay those firefighters.
According to Castillo, the majority of residents in his district have told him “the only thing worse than a detention center that we hate is a detention center that comes with an increase in taxes.
“They’ve told me, ‘Do what you can with the detention center, but please don’t bring me an additional bill as a result of having the detention center,’” Castillo says. Castillo adds that “imprudent or hasty or illegal” decisions or any “sort of tortuous interference with the contract between CCA and the federal government” could bring “huge legal” fees for Pembroke Pines.
“Southwest Ranches could recover from Pembroke Pines the amount it would have received had that contract gone through, and that would be many, many millions of dollars,” he says.