The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is looking to expand its immigrant detention operations throughout California, including in Bakersfield.
According to a technical document known as a “request for information” posted online in late April, the federal agency hopes to increase its the amount of detainees it can hold in the state by up to 5,600.
Of the total, up to 1,000 are hoped to be placed in a region in the Central Valley defined as being from Bakersfield to Redding, about 160 miles north of Sacramento.
The federal government wants to place the detainees in facilities within 75 to 180 miles of seven cities in that region, including Bakersfield, Sacramento and San Francisco.
A representative for ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ICE currently operates eight detention facilities in California that have varying capacities. The Mesa Verde ICE Detention Center in Bakersfield holds 400 detainees while the largest facility California, which is located in Adelanto, has a capacity of 1,940.
Immigration advocates have opposed the expansion, with 27 groups, including the local organization Mesa Verde Liberation Front, signing on to a letter of opposition organized by Freedom For Immigrants.
“Organizers across the state will rally to defend immigrant communities from threats of mass incarceration and deportation,” the letter said. “We will defend the spirit and values that we hold dear as a state.”
Advocates had hoped that a law passed in 2017 would prevent new immigrant detention facilities from opening in California.
The Dignity Not Detention Act prevents cities and counties from entering into contracts with federal agencies for the purpose of housing noncitizens for detention.
Mesa Verde in Bakersfield seemed to fall victim to the law late last year when the city of McFarland, which contracted with the private prison company, Geo Group Inc., pulled out of the agreement and left Geo without a partner to operate the facility.
However, Geo Group entered into a $19.3 million contract directly with ICE for one year, keeping the detention center open at least temporarily.
Critics have said the contract circumvents the law, while Geo said at the time that the contract prevented the immediate disruption of operations while ICE continued its competitive contract process.
The city of Adelanto recently terminated its own contract with Geo. In late March, the city gave Geo 90 days notice of the contract expiration, according to KQED News.
It is unclear what the fate of the facility will be.
Meanwhile, illegal border crossings into the United States appear to be increasing.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has reported that total apprehensions at the border for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins in October, have already exceeded apprehensions for all of Fiscal Years 2018 and 2017.
President Donald Trump has said the border is overwhelmed.
“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” he said in early April.
In March, Customs and Border Patrol engaged in more than 100,000 border enforcement actions, the White House said, the most for one month in more than a decade.