About 250 southwest Broward residents attended a Saturday meeting in the city of Pembroke Pines to tell local and federal officials, as well as prison industry executives, that they don’t want an immigration detention center built in their area.
Worried about security, property values, and traffic control, residents booed and interrupted Jeff Nelson, mayor of the town of Southwest Ranches, when he offered details about the detention facility and the lot where it would be built.
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. Citizens have even called for the resignation of Mayor Nelson.
Nelson said Saturday that the detention center had been publicly discussed but residents yelled that was not true. Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who facilitated the meeting, called for residents to let the mayor finish his presentation.
Nelson added that the project will add 1,000 temporary jobs and about 250 permanent jobs for area residents.
Gary Mead — executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations for ICE — told residents they had decided a little over a year ago that “we could have another dedicated facility in Florida.”
Mead said they selected the Southwest Ranches/CCA proposal and are now “moving that forward” and working on the final details of the facility, which would hold about 1,400 detainees. He added that the facility was well located for ICE field offices, immigration judges, and the transportation of detainees.
Residents once again rejected the proposal, shouting that its location was not good for their homes, children, and schools.
Tony L. Grande, executive vice president and chief development officer for CCA, told residents, “We’ve been looking forward to this opportunity to share information and dispel misinformation.”
When Grande concluded by saying that “this has been the result of many many years of deliberation, ” a resident yelled, “This discussion should have happened before a decision was made!”
Pembroke Pines residents have argued they were kept out of specific agreements between Southwest Ranches officials and their city, and have demanded those agreements be rescinded. During the meeting, they insisted that the Southwest Ranches mayor does not represent them.
Pembroke Pines signed an agreement in June to supply fire, rescue, water, and sewage services to the immigration detention center, set to be built on land owned by CCA and surrounded by Pembroke Pines and unincorporated Broward County.
Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Iris Siple said at the Saturday meeting she will ask the city commission to cancel this agreement.
Lucibeth Mayberry, vice president, and deputy chief development officer for CCA, told residents her company complied with ICE’s requirements, and were selected for this detention center, but “until Wednesday or Thursday of this week we didn’t have the details we are here to share today.”
Mayberry also clarified that CCA will pay $1.5 million in property taxes to Southwest Ranches and that once they build the detention center they will not have an agricultural tax exemption. “Facilities of this type do not affect property [values],” she added.
Steven Conry, vice president of facility operations for CCA, said his company works with the community, law enforcement, and first responders. He added they have performed studies and are ready for traffic control, adding that their experience shows that CCA detention facilities do not have an impact on emergency medical services.
ICE’s Mead said their facilities have full medical services that operate around the clock.
“This is what happens when you don’t go to the people first,” said Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis, explaining the vocal opposition to the new detention center while admitting that the facility is a “Southwest Ranches issue.” Residents cheered and rose to their feet. “If this becomes a reality we will become a jail town,” Ortis said.