Plans proceed for new center to hold Utah immigration detainees — but it may be in Wyoming

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents patrol for undocumented immigrants in Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork on Wednesday March 12, 2008, regularly visiting the jail to determine who to process and how quickly.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is moving ahead with plans for a new detention center for people awaiting immigration court appearances in West Valley City.

But the proposed 500-bed jail may be in Evanston, Wyo. — making for some long trips to court, and difficulty for immigrants to see their family and lawyers in Utah. Also, some Utah Latinos have worried that a new center may help fuel more immigration raids that separate families.

Immigration attorneys say that when the Utah County jail in recent years ended its contract to hold ICE detainees, the agency started moving them out of state — and many have already been sent to Nevada and Colorado.

ICE recently filed a notice that, on July 19, it plans formally to request proposals for a new privately built-and-owned detention center to serve its Utah-based operations. It is a heads-up for private prison companies to prepare bids.

The notice says ICE would like the facility “preferably within a 90-mile radius of the Salt Lake City, Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office” in West Valley City. It seeks a 500-bed facility and nothing smaller than 250 beds.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Jacqueline Zamora does one of her regular runs to file paperwork for an attorney to Immigration Court in West Valley City on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2019.

Two years ago, ICE sought proposals on where to build the facility, and then said it was seeking a location within 180 miles of Salt Lake City.

It received three proposals from separate private prison companies: 83 miles away in Evanston; 481 miles away in Pahrump, Nev.; and 522 miles away in Aurora, Colo.

ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock said the agency now "continues to refine its detention-related acquisition strategy based on responses the agency received to prior requests for proposals.”

She added, “The proposed services are part of ICE’s effort to continually review its detention requirements and explore options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody.”

She said it has no firm time frame for awarding a contract for the new facility and has not firmly decided on letting one. She said that ICE “may award a contract for detention-related services sometime after a thorough review of the vendor submissions.”

Utah-based Management & Training Corp. says it is interested in bidding.

Once ICE issues a formal request for proposals, “We plan to partner with Uinta County, Wyo., to develop a proposal for a facility in Evanston,” said MTC spokesman Issa Arnita.

MTC said previously it looked at locating the facility in Evanston because of local support there. An earlier story by the nonprofit journalism site WyoFile detailed how excited some Wyoming officials are for such a facility.

MTC has not enjoyed such support in Utah and has faced protests here over the detention facilities it operates nationally. Eight protesters were arrested last year after some had chained themselves to the company’s headquarters in Centerville.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) 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.

Some Utah immigration attorneys previously have argued that an out-of-state detention center is not a good solution, making it difficult to visit clients.

Comunidades Unidas, which works with immigrants in Utah, and other Latinos have opposed adding it because more jails might help further policies and crackdowns they say help separate immigrant families.