Activists protest plan to double the size of proposed jail for Utah immigration detainees

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The shield for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has doubled the proposed size of a potential detention center — from 500 to 1,000 — for people awaiting immigration court appearances in West Valley City.

Also, its modified request for proposals continues to allow locating that private prison facility up to 90 miles away — and officials in Evanston, Wyo., are pushing for its construction there to bring jobs.

Activists in Utah and Wyoming are protesting the larger long-distance prison — and the idea of any new detention facility at all.

“If they’re successful in building the prison, it will prompt ICE to ramp up raids and arrests,” the Utah Coalition to Keep Families Together says in an online post urging people to write ICE as proposals for the new prison are due on Saturday.

Esther Merono, an organizer with that coalition of Latino groups, nonprofits and faith groups formed to fight the prison, said, “This is wrong and against our values and we need to do what we can to stop it.”

She says few people still realize the detention facility is being planned.

“We're trying to make sure that people in Salt Lake know that this is happening and that it's going to affect our community here and across the region — and just hopefully create the conditions for us to be heard,” she said.

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 been sent to Nevada and Colorado, making it difficult for local attorneys or family to visit.

In 2017, ICE solicited loose proposals for a new detention facility for the immigration court in West Valley City. Different private prison companies proposed them in far-away places: 83 miles away in Evanston; 481 miles away in Pahrump, Nev.; and 522 miles away in Aurora, Colo.

This summer, ICE made a firm request for proposals for a facility within 90 miles of the court, seemingly increasing the likelihood it will be built in Evanston, just over the Wyoming state line.

The Centerville-based Management and Training Corp. had in recent years proposed a detention center in Evanston because of support from local leaders there. It had not enjoyed such support in Utah, where it has faced protests over the detention facilities it operates nationally.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Activists stage a protest on July 12, 2018, at the headquarters of Management and Training Corporation in Centerville.

MTC recently withdrew its proposals for an Evanston facility. That opened the door for CoreCivic, formerly called Corrections Corporation of America, which is now pursuing the contract with hopes of building in Evanston, according to officials there.

After ICE sent out its initial request for proposals this summer, it increased the preferred population for the facility to 1,000 — for 800 males and 200 females. The deadline for submitting proposals is Saturday.

While some have opposed the Evanston facility because its distance from court makes it difficult for detainees to have access to attorneys and families, Merono said her group opposes any new facility — no matter where it is built.

“You don’t want any new infrastructure built so that ICE can ramp up its activities,” she said. “We really want a complete moratorium on deportations and detentions” that break apart families.

She said her group is joining in protest efforts with groups in Wyoming, such as WyoSayNo. She said groups plan a vigil in Evanston on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Depot Square there.