The federal government is gearing up to drastically expand immigrant detention capacity in Kern County, despite a state law meant to ban such action.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has signed two new contracts with GEO Group Inc., allowing the private prison company to increase the number of beds used to detain immigrants in Kern County from 400 to 1,800.
Two facilities in McFarland that had previously been used as private prisons will become annexes of the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, GEO said in a news release.
Mesa Verde, which has 400 beds, is currently the only location in the county that detains people for immigration violations. The Central Valley Modified Community Correctional Facility and Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility, which each hold 700 beds, will apparently be added to the list.
The expansion comes at a time when the state government is attempting to close all private prisons in California. In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 32, a bill that bans new contracts for for-profit prisons. The bill comes into effect Jan. 1, and advocates had hoped it would lead to the closure of all private facilities used to detain immigrants.
A spokeswoman for Newsom told the Associated Press on Tuesday that ICE was trying to circumvent the state’s authority with the new contracts.
ICE, however, claims the new contracts are compliant with federal contract and acquisition regulations. Because the contracts were awarded last Friday, the agency says AB 32 does not apply.
“State laws aimed at obstructing federal law enforcement are inappropriate and harmful,” the agency said in a statement. “Policy makers who strive to make it more difficult to remove dangerous criminal aliens and aim to stop the cooperation of local officials and business partners harm the very communities whose welfare they have sworn to protect.”
In total, ICE awarded four contracts to facilities in Kern County, Adelanto, San Diego and Calexico. Although the contracts call for up to 7,188 beds, ICE said it would initially only hold 4,000 detainees under the contracts.
A spokeswoman said ICE could use the extra beds later if needed.
GEO received contracts for the two new Kern County facilities, along with two facilities in Adelanto. The Associated Press reported that CoreCivic Inc. also received contracts for facilities in San Diego and Calexico. The contracts total $6.8 billion, according to AP.
GEO said in a news release its contracts had terms of 15 years, with two five-year options included. The company expects the contracts to generate $200 million in annual revenue and support more than 1,200 full-time jobs.
“We’re pleased to have been able to build on our long-standing partnership with ICE to help the agency meet its need for processing center beds in California, which comply with the federal government’s performance-based national detention standards,” George C. Zoley, GEO’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in the release.
Central Valley MCCF had previously been set to close because of new state policy on private prisons. The new announcement allows for the McFarland detention center to remain open for the foreseeable future, although it is unknown how many of the 1,200 jobs mentioned by GEO will be located in Kern County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report