Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Pembroke Pines, said today that a proposed publicly funded, privately managed immigration detention center to be built in South Florida would have the least negative impact on residents and create short-term and long-term jobs.

Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said on South Florida’s First News: ” I wrote a sort of cursory letter of support, because the town of Southwest Ranches has for many years been planning on the property that is already zoned for things like a dump or even a maximum security prison.”

In an April 2011 letter, Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., stated their support for “the application by the Town of Southwest Ranches, Florida, in response to the ‘Request for IGSA Concept Proposal: Miami’ issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Residents of Pembroke Pines and the town of Southwest Ranches have voiced opposition to the federally funded and privately managed detention center since ICE announced it had chosen the Southwest Ranches/Corrections Corporation of America proposal in June. Citizens have even called for the resignation of Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson.

According to Detention Watch Network, Corrections Corporation of America, known as CCA, “operates a total of 14 ICE-contracted facilities with a total of 14,556 beds. In 2009, CCA averaged a daily population of 6,199 detained immigrants.”

The detention center would be built on land administered by Southwest Ranches and owned by the CCA, but surrounded by residential areas of Pembroke Pines and unincorporated Broward County.

“There have been many hearings, lots of input,” Wasserman Schultz said on Florida’s First News. “I helped secure a town hall meeting with ICE officials and CCA officials as well Southwest Ranches, which they had not done, because I was really concerned they had not given enough opportunity for feedback from residents.”

At that town hall meeting, held on Nov. 5 in the city of Pembroke Pines, about 250 southwest Broward residents told 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 Nelson when he offered details about the detention facility and the lot where it would be built.

Wasserman Schultz said on Florida’s First News that she helped create a citizen’s advisory council for residents of Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines to “give them input and feedback on what they think needs to be addressed.”

She added that the immigration detention facility “is the minimum impact that could be built there right now,” saying “there are lot worse impacts that could be built there right now, without any approvals at all.”

“I think it is going to be far better to have that ICE detention center there than to have any other facility that would have a much more negative impact on residents there,” Wasserman Schultz said.

According to the Detention Watch Network, CCA spent $18 million on federal lobbying “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.”

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