Politics

Pennsylvania county that approved new ICE contract facing lawsuit after failing to follow state law

“The contract with the private prison company, GEO Group, is one of two contracts approved by the commissioners to repurpose the facility for immigration detention,” the ACLU of Pennsylvania said. That was approved this past fall, after the Bureau of Prisons declined to renew Moshannon Valley’s contract earlier this year. The second agreement was with ICE.

But the civil rights organization said that commissioners “did not publicly post an agenda in advance” of the Sept. 28 meeting where the contracts were approved, “as required by the state Sunshine Act. They only provided public notice that a meeting would be held, without offering specifics of the commissioners’ agenda.” This means that local residents and advocates who may be opposed to ICE’s cruelty had no chance to offer public comment—and there’s quite a lot to say when it comes to both GEO Group and ICE.

“As a local resident, I expect the county commissioners to comply with the law. That’s a reasonable request,” said Tim Smith. He’s one of two residents represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The Sunshine Act requires the county to inform the public of its business so that people can comment in an open and public meeting. The county commissioners took a great deal of input from GEO and ICE but almost none from the public. None of these details were known or seen by the public before they decided. We now know that this is a very bad deal for the people. An open meeting will allow us to point this out.”

Looking at the commissioners’ actions since, it seems like they know they effed up. ACLU of Pennsylvania immigrants’ rights attorney Vanessa Stine and Juntos executive director Erika Guadalupe Núñez said in a blog post that since filing the legal action late last month, “the county commissioners announced a special meeting to accept public comment. We hope that the county hears people’s concerns and halts further action on the contracts.” 

While Núñez and others spoke out against the contracts at that meeting on Wednesday, Juntos tweeted that commissioners voted “unanimously to reaffirm agreements with ICE & Geo Group”:

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“Your livelihoods should not depend on the imprisonment of others,” she continued. “This community deserves better; your elected leaders should be working on an actual solution to bring economic growth that will bring long-term jobs to the area.” The fact is this site’s possible reopening as a for-profit immigration prison shouldn’t be happening at all, under the president’s campaign pledge making “clear that the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.”

“President Biden has the authority to cancel the ICE contract with GEO Group in Clearfield County. He should do just that,” Stine and Núñez continued in their post. They said that at nearly 1,900 beds, it could become the largest immigration detention site in the Northeast. Mr. President, shut it down.

What’s more, Clearfield County commissioners and all public officials across Pennsylvania would do well to remember their obligation to open government and to their constituents’ voices, opinions, and concerns,” they continued. “In this age of frayed democracy, such democratic principles have never been more important.”




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