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ICE expands into former McFarland prisons, drastically increasing capabilities

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In this February 2020 file photo, a group of GEO supporters gathers outside a McFarland Planning Commission meeting.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun moving detainees into one of two former state detention centers in McFarland, capping a long legal battle to expand its capabilities in Kern County.

In an email to The Californian, ICE confirmed the former Golden State Modified Community Correctional Facility — now called the Golden State Annex as it is being used as an annex of the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility — was being used to house its detainees. Spokesman Jonathan Moor did not answer a follow-up question about how many detainees were being held at the site, nor did he respond to a question about the neighboring Central Valley Annex, the former Central Valley Community Correctional Facility also planned to be used to detain immigrants.

Both the Golden State Annex and the Central Valley Annex significantly increase the number of individuals that can be held in Kern County. ICE’s only previous presence in the county was Mesa Verde in Bakersfield, which had the ability to hold 400 people at full capacity. Both the Central Valley and Golden State annexes can hold 700 people each, potentially more than quadrupling ICE’s detention abilities.

Both facilities will be operated by the private prison company that runs Mesa Verde, GEO Group Inc. The company referred The Californian’s questions to ICE.

The city of McFarland has been sued twice by immigrant advocates over its City Council vote approving the permit changes that allowed GEO to convert the two state prisons into immigrant detention centers.

In one of the lawsuits, in which GEO is included, Freedom For Immigrants and Immigrant Legal Resource Center claimed the city and company violated the Dignity Not Detention Act by not meeting certain public participation requirements of the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan also sued McFarland over alleged violations of the state’s Brown Act, which governs public access to government business.

In the first lawsuit, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to the plaintiffs, stopping ICE from moving into the two facilities. The restraining order, however, was overturned on appeal. Just this week, a Kern County judge rejected the ACLU’s attempt to obtain a restraining order. Both cases remain ongoing.

“This matter is far from over,” said Grisel Ruiz, a supervising attorney at ILRC. “We still think this flies in the face, and is an affront to, the will of the people in McFarland.”

Large crowds attended both McFarland's Planning Commission meetings and the City Council meeting in which the permits were discussed, with dozens speaking against approval in public comments.

In February, the Planning Commission rejected GEO’s request to approve the permit changes, only for the City Council to overturn the decision on appeal.

“We saw farmworkers come out in the hundreds,” Ruiz said. “So the community there has spoken loud and clear that this is not something that they want in their community.”

Yet, one of the detention centers is operating within the community. As the two lawsuits proceed, it remains to be seen if either will be successful in overturning the City Council’s decision.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.