A private prison facility in New Mexico could reopen and be utilized as a center to house migrants who are awaiting asylum claims to be processed by the United States government.
A decision on the Torrance County Detention Facility, which closed in October 2017, is expected on Wednesday when Torrance County Commission members are set to vote on a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that would reopen the facility and allow it to be used to house approximately 700 adult male migrants, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
The facility, located in Estancia, would also house a number of local inmates, though the exact number is unknown. Those prisoners would be housed separately from the migrants, the Journal says.
The prison has 900 beds, Torrance County Manager Wayne Johnson told the Journal, adding that when the facility closed in 2017, the local economy took a hit since many people were employed by the prison.
“You looked up and you’d start to see businesses start to struggle and, in some cases, close and that was a huge impact on the economic vitality of the area,” Johnson told KOB-TV in April, adding that since the prison closed, county deputies travel three hours round-trip to deliver detainees to a jail in Santa Fe County. “It hasn’t been easy on the county. Money that we might have used in other ways to hire additional EMTs or for public safety, in general, had to go to the transportation of handling prisoners.”
If the commission elects to sign a contract with ICE, it is expected that the agency would pay Torrance County $2 million per month to operate the prison during its first year. The price would increase for following years. According to the Journal, the contract states that ICE will pay a fixed rate for 714 migrants. Housing additional immigrants would mean increased rates per person.
If the contract is signed between the county and ICE, Torrance County would then arrange a separate agreement with CoreCivic, the Nashville, Tennessee-based company that owns the facility, to hire staff and run the prison.
“We welcome the jail reopening. We would work really hard to facilitate that,” Johnson told KOB.
While Johnson said he welcomes the facility opening up again, some New Mexico lawmakers told the Journal they were not sold on the idea.
“For me personally, it’s really concerning that they’re considering reopening it. I’m completely opposed to private prisons. They should not exist in our state,” Rep. Angelica Rubio said.
If the facility reopens, it would be New Mexico’s third private prison to be reutilized to house migrants as thousands of people await entry along the U.S. border or choose to illegally cross into the country from Mexico. Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents saw 98,977 migrants apprehended at the border, up from 92,831 in March and 66,883 in February.
The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan and the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral are the other private-owned prisons housing migrants in the state. The Cibola County facility made headlines in April after Honduran Nicole Garcia Aguilar, a transgender migrant, was held in ICE custody for six months and allegedly released with no paperwork, prompting another arrest when she presented herself at the El Paso, Texas processing center to be given the documents.