June 08–U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials plan to transfer some 1,600 immigrant detainees to federal prisons across the United States, with the largest group heading to a prison in Victorville this weekend.
The planned move has alarmed both immigrant-rights advocates and the union that represents the correctional officers and staff at the Federal Correctional Complex Victorville in San Bernardino County.
Immigration authorities have entered into an agreement with the Bureau of Prisons for more than 1,600 beds as a temporary measure “until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said in a statement Thursday.
“Due to the current surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space, both long and short term,” she wrote.
While approximately 1,000 detainees will be sent to Victorville, the remainder are slated for prisons in SeaTac, Washington, La Tuna, Texas, Sheridan, Oregon and Phoenix.
Immigrant advocates said federal penitentiaries are a place for criminals, not people awaiting their turn in immigration court.
“This is another escalation of the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies on asylum seekers and immigrants,” said Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “Separating children from their parents, criminalizing asylum seekers and holding immigrants in federal prisons is inhumane.”
Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Services Center, Inc., criticized the Trump administration as “using scare tactics” against people fleeing violence in their countries to deter them from seeking shelter in the United States.
Meanwhile, the local union president who represents 900 Victorville prison employees said the large influx of inmates can pose a safety concern because they’re coming in large waves, beginning Friday, June 8, with little planning and not enough officers in place.
“It’s chaos right now,” John Kostelnik, Local 3969 union president with the American Federation of Government Employees, said late Thursday. “There is no direction. We have no time to prepare. We needed time. We need more staff.”
Kostelnik said he was informed Monday, June 4 of the transfers, which he said are scheduled to continue through Monday, June 11.
The Victorville facility, which has about 400 correctional officers, has four separate prisons currently housing 3,649 inmates, Kostelnik said. The immigrant detainees will be housed in a medium-security prison, where at least half of the current prisoners were moved to a second medium-security prison onsite to make way for the newcomers, he said.
“They basically overstuffed one of the prisons. It’s at full capacity,” Kostelnik said.
Lori Haley, a spokeswoman with ICE in Los Angeles, declined to address the concerns from both the immigrant-rights advocates and the prison union president.
The immigration agency has routinely used prison spaces for immigrant detainees, according to Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., but she could not provide additional data. Kostelnik, however, said this is the first time the Victorville facility has been used in this fashion.
“We’ll have to keep (the immigrants) segregated from (the other inmates),” Kostelnik said. “But even then, being in prison can make anybody break.”
This article provided by NewsEdge.