The city of McFarland has pulled out of an agreement to operate the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield, raising questions about who might become the new local partner required to keep it open.
City Manager John Wooner told The Californian the city sent notice on Wednesday to Geo Group Inc., which runs the facility on behalf of the city and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He said the McFarland City Council voted in closed session about three months ago to end its agreement with Geo that permitted the operation of the facility at the Bakersfield location.
It will take 90 days before the city's withdrawal from the agreement takes effect, Wooner said.
He said the city recently re-evaluated its agreement to operate the facility and decided to pull out following a change of heart among the councilmembers regarding the operation of the facility.
He would not elaborate.
“The council has decided it doesn’t want to be a part of it anymore,” he said.
McFarland Mayor Manuel Cantu Jr. also provided no reasons for the city’s withdrawal from the agreement.
“GEO is a wonderful and amicable company that continues to operate in our city and is committed to supporting our community,” Cantu said in an email.
The city was paid about $35,000 a year to be a partner with ICE, Wooner said.
McFarland paid Geo with funds it received from ICE, according to the agreement between Geo and the city.
Wooner added that Geo runs three prisons within McFarland and it will continue to operate them.
City Attorney Tom Schroeter said ICE is required to secure a local public agency to operate a detention facility in any given area.
For Mesa Verde, that public agency was the city of McFarland, and the city contracted Geo to handle the daily operations of the detention facility.
“If we back out, I guess they have to find another public agency to step in,” he said.
It is unclear how McFarland’s decision will impact the operation of Mesa Verde.
Schroeter said he did not know exactly what would become of the facility now that McFarland has pulled out of the agreement between itself and ICE, which is known as an intergovnermental services agreement.
Neither did the Bakersfield City Attorney’s Office.
Representatives of ICE and Geo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mesa Verde declined to comment.
Mesa Verde holds 400 detainees on behalf of ICE, according to Geo’s website.
The facility, located on Golden State Avenue, had been a private prison that was not operating prior to a $10 million upgrade by Geo.
The facility reopened in 2015, this time as an immigration processing facility.
When it reopened, a Geo spokesperson said the facility would hold 300 men and 100 women, most of them foreign nationals who had been convicted of a crime, and some with pending immigration cases, although none would be serving criminal sentences in the facility.
Local volunteers who visit the facility have said some of the detainees housed in the facility have pending requests for asylum, and they wait in the facility while their cases move through the court system.
The volunteers say some of the detainees are felons awaiting deportation, and others have misdemeanor charges. They wait in Mesa Verde for their immigration statuses to be determined by a judge.
Geo recently purchased and demolished the Bakersfield Dome, which sat next to Mesa Verde.
At the time of the sale in July, the owner of the Dome said that Geo planned to expand the detention facility into the area occupied by the dome.
Geo countered the claim, saying in a statement to The Californian it was purchasing the property to create a “secure buffer” between Mesa Verde and the surrounding neighborhood.