The Mesa Verde ICE Detention Center will stay open for at least another year.
The company that runs the center, GEO Group, Inc., has contracted with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep the center open through March 18, 2020.
The center was at risk of closing on March 19 after the city of McFarland decided last December not to renew its existing contract with GEO Group after it expires on the 19th. If the facility had closed, its approximately 400 detainees would have been transferred to other facilities, including those that are out of state.
“The award of the sole-source contract is necessary to prevent the immediate disruption of operations while ICE continues its competitive contract process,” said ICE spokesman Richard Rocha.
According to the contract document, as a bidding process to find a long-term contract for the center would last beyond the March 19 deadline, ICE decided to contract with GEO Group directly for a year to provide more time to find a replacement.
ICE said it wanted to make sure there was no interruption in service and that detainees wouldn’t have to be relocated somewhere else and then returned when a new contract was awarded.
“This could result in serious injury to the detainees as well as incur an unnecessary serious financial burden to cover the cost of relocating such a large population,” the organization said.
The $19.3 million contract comes as local groups have gathered to raise money to post bond for as many detainees as possible prior to the possible closure of the facility. Despite an agreement being reached, the groups are continuing the fundraising effort.
The Rapid Response Network of Kern and Building Healthy Communities South Kern initially had a goal to raise $319,000 by March 19 to bail out around 80 detainees who have been granted bond but are unable to pay it and therefore have to stay at the facility.
The goal is to reunite detainees with their families in Kern County.
With a new agreement in place, there is no longer a fundraising deadline, according to Ambar Tovar, who has organized the effort and works as an immigration attorney for the United Farm Workers Foundation.
“Now that we have a temporary contract, the fight does not stop. People continue to be detained without any possibility to pay their bond,” she said. “This is not an effort of ‘right now.’ This is an effort that’s going to continue for as long as people are detained. The time to act is now.”
Rosa Lopez, co-chair of the Rapid Response Network of Kern, expressed concerns about how the new contract could impact detainees at the center.
“Since learning that Mesa Verde will not close at the end of the month, the fund campaign is ever more urgent,” she said. “GEO entering into a private contract with ICE raises a lot of concerns about transparency and the conditions and treatment of people in prison here.”
To make a difference for the detainees, Lopez urged the community to step up and support the funding effort.
“Many of these people are our friends and neighbors who call Kern (County) their home, and are caught up in this immigration system that seeks to criminalize people just being immigrant,” she said. “I call you to action, and I call the community to stand in solidarity.”
As of Thursday, the effort has raised $1,144 through its GoFundMe page. The page can be reached at gofundme.com/mesa-verde-bond-fund.
“Whether we are able to help one family stay together or many families, I assure you it is all worth it,” Tovar said.