Former Virginia jail to house illegal immigrants

Former Virginia jail to house illegal immigrants
Published: Jul. 3, 2018 at 5:22 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2018 at 11:12 PM EDT
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CAROLINE, VA (WWBT) - A former jail in Caroline County will house illegal immigrants after an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Caroline Detention Facility - formerly known as the Peumansend Creek Regional Jail - "will house adult male and adult female immigrants who have illegally entered the United States and house no children," Caroline officials said in a news release on Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors approved a five-year agreement with Homeland Security to house the illegal immigrants.

"The purpose of detention services at the Caroline Detention Facility is to assure illegal immigrants' presence during their administrative hearing process and assure their presence for removal from the United States pursuant to a lawful final order by an Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals or other Federal judicial body," Caroline officials said.

The agreement took effect July 1.

Caroline officials says the facility "will provide a safe and modern facility to house adults going through the process. Using the facility in this manner prevents other entities from taking control and using the facility for other uses which could have a harmful impact to the county."

At Los Dos Amigos Restaurant in Caroline County, this is a conversation that was inevitable. The owners are from different countries, so they have strong opinions - and so do their customers.

Gerald Tejada is just opening up his Mexican Restaurant in Caroline. For him, it's part of fulfilling a dream.

"I'm trying to make another day," he said.

It's why he can relate to those who travel to the United States at any cost.

"To get a better life. There's a dream for everyone. 90 percent [of undocumented immigrants] like to have a better dream, a better life," Tejada said.

Just a few miles down the road, more than 300 undocumented immigrants could be detained at the old Peumansend Creek Jail.

It won't cost Caroline County a dime. In fact, the county could receive nearly $28,000 per day for housing the minimum number of undocumented immigrants. Per the contract, the jail will have to house at least 224 detainees, but no more than 336 detainees.

These terms were made under a five-year deal, restoring 120 jobs lost when the jail closed last year.

"That would be great. That would be perfect. Nothing could be better for Bowling Green than that," said Peggy Wright.

"Not really happy with that," Tara Byrd countered.

There are mixed reactions from diners just learning the news.

"I don't think they belong here. It makes me concerned when we start bringing them in and detaining them, because how long is it going to be for?" Byrd said.

"We were hoping someone would come in there...I do think we should secure the borders, but I don't think we should separate parents and kids, regardless of how they got here. Just keep them together and decide whether you're going to allow it or not and take the whole family," Wright said.

As of now, it's a done deal. Folks like Tejada just want to make sure everyone has a shot at fulfilling a dream.

"We are human beings, and we got to take care of the country too," he said.

The ACLU says it "strongly objects" to this move and raised concerns the deal was discussed behind closed doors without giving the public any input:

Under the agreement, announced today in a news release from the county, DHS will pay the county for use of the former Peumansend Creek Regional Jail to imprison people rounded up under the Trump administration's on-going inhumane and unconstitutional attack on undocumented immigrants.

We flatly object to the use of local or state facilities in Virginia for this purpose, as well as to the county's economic development justification for an action that enables the zero tolerance policy of the Trump administration. That policy has resulted in the separation of families and indefinite incarceration of migrants whose only crime is seeking a better life.

As the effective date of the contract is July 1, it is unclear whether DHS is already using this facility or how many people are being imprisoned there. Neither the contract term or the amount DHS will pay the county were included in the county's statement.

According to minutes of county board meetings, the contract was approved following a series of closed-door discussions that took place over several months. County officials have told us the contract was approved on June 28, which was the second of two reconvened meetings following the board's regular meeting on June 19.

While the legality of these closed-door sessions is still to be determined, it is clear that the Board purposely kept the public in the dark until this contract was in effect. Thus, the residents of the county had no opportunity to provide any input on whether they agree that this contract is in their best interest or the interests of the community.

Moreover, it appears that the board improperly invoked a FOIA provision that allows closed meeting consideration of awarding contracts to vendors who will be paid by the county in order to protect the county's bargaining position; using that provision to discuss a contract in which the county will be paid for renting beds to the government is clearly outside the scope of this exception.

We urge local residents to hold their elected officials accountable for this action taken in secret and without their consent, and demand that the supervisors take immediate to rescind the contract.

Caroline's County Manager says most contracted deals - including this one - are discussed in private with the vote happening in public.

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