8 protesters arrested at Utah office of private prison company with contracts to hold undocumented immigrants

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Activists are removed from a building where they staged a protest against a private prison company with contracts to hold undocumented immigrants on Thursday, July 12, 2018, at the headquarters of Management and Training Corporation in Centerville.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Police close off access to where activists stage a protest against a private prison company with contracts to hold undocumented immigrants on Thursday, July 12, 2018, at the headquarters of Management and Training Corporation in Centerville.

Centerville • Police arrested eight protesters who disrupted the offices of a Utah-based business that operates immigrant detention centers, demanding Management and Training Corporation withdraw from its contracts with the federal government immediately.

About 25 protesters entered the building at Marketplace Business Park at 500 North and 400 West at 7:45 a.m. Thursday, some chaining themselves to the structure and to each other. The property owner called Centerville police, who arrived and told the protesters to leave. About 15 of them did.

Protesters who remained were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to Centerville police.

Taylor Goldstein, the group’s designated spokesperson, said before the arrests that the protestors felt a moral responsibility to act.

The company says its centers “do not house children, but they are still separating families by taking mothers and fathers away from their children,” Goldstein said. "Even if they’re not detaining children, it’s not OK. They’re still separating children.”

MTC released a statement acknowledging it operates Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Calexico, Calif., Chaparral, New Mexico, and Livingston, Texas, adding, “None have children or minors, only adults" and asserting it is “only a contractor for ICE” and is “not involved in any way in policies.”

The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy became a flashpoint nationally because it mandated that adults caught illegally crossing the border be subject to criminal prosecution and separated from their children, who are placed in different facilities.

Centerville Police Lt. Zan Robinson said officers and protesters had “a good dialogue" and police waited about two hours into the protest before making arrests. Before the protesters were removed, he said, “We’ve told them that they can be charged with trespassing. But, ultimately, we just hope that they’ll leave and take their protest to a public location where it’s lawful.”

Among those later carried out by police was Psarah Johnson, who uses a wheelchair and was not detained after she was removed from the building. Johnson said officers were “very polite.”

“They really did want to come to an agreement. They gave us many chances to leave of our own volition,” she said, adding the protesters intended to be arrested.

“And the reason we were all willing to do this is what we were seeing, so many families being taken away from their children; we’re seeing children being put into detention centers,” she said.

MTC said in a statement that it “would have been happy to meet" with the protesters and decried their refusal “to comply with police and leave private property." The group has the right to advocate for abolishing ICE, the company said, "but they don’t have the right to break the law.”

On its website, MTC said its facilities provide adult detainees access to medical and legal resources and voluntary recreation and other activities.

Five protesters stood outside the building during the arrests, holding signs proclaiming “Stop separating families” and chanting, “No justice, no peace.” A middle-aged man drove by, stuck his head out his car window and shouted, “Hurray for ICE.” Another driver shouted, “Go home.”

Robinson said the group did not do anything violent. “They’ve been intimidating people as they come in and out of the building,” he said before the arrests. “But they have not put their hands on anybody."

The protesters were on the first and second floor of the building; workers in the upper floors were told to “shelter in place” to “keep everybody separated," Robinson said.

Goldstein read a statement that said MTC, headquartered in Centerville and owned by Utahns Scott and Jane Marquardt, is the third-largest private prison company in the United States. It has proposed opening a new immigrant detention facility in Evanston, Wyo., she added.

The group is demanding that MTC drop its plans for the Evanston facility; stop profitting from private prisons; and support decriminalizing immigrants. Much of the group’s anger is focused on the owners of MTC.

“I think it’s really important to hold the Marquardts accountable,” Goldstein said. “

Goldstein said the protesters banded together after the recent Family Belongs Together rally in Salt Lake City and had been discussing the protest for several weeks.

“We don't have a name. We're just a group of concerned community members,” she said. “We just couldn't take it anymore. We felt that we had to do something.

“I’m Mexican-American and Jewish, and that’s why this is important to me,” said Goldstein, 26, who lives in Salt Lake City.

Officers from the Bountiful, North Salt Lake, Farmingston, Woods Cross and West Bountiful police departments, in addition to the Davis County Sheriff’s Office and Utah Highway Patrol, responded to the protest, according to a news release.