JEROME — Nearly a year since the official introduction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement proposal to lease beds at the Jerome County jail, county officials have yet to see a contract from the federal agency.
Meanwhile, local activists opposed to such a deal say they don’t plan to go down without a fight.
A report prepared by ICE staff in Salt Lake City last January described Jerome as an “ideal location” to lease 50 beds to make up for a lack of space in Utah. By establishing a presence in Jerome, the report said, the agency would save money by cutting down on the transportation costs of sending detainees to Seattle or Salt Lake City. In the future, it suggested, ICE could lease more than the 50 beds proposed now, and could hold detention hearings there.
In mid-September, ICE published a notice on its website saying the agency was moving forward with the contract in Jerome.
“They keep telling us ‘next week, next week,’” said Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall. “They say they’ve got the funding and everything. All we’re waiting for is the contract.”
The proposal has garnered criticism from local and statewide civil rights organizations as well as dairy industry groups, who say a crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the area would create a culture of fear among Jerome’s Hispanic community and disrupt the local economy.
A group of citizens against the move has been meeting as frequently as three or four times a month since July to discuss how best to oppose the plan, said Benjamin Reed, Spanish Language Brand Manager at KXTA.
“If they think we’re going to roll over and play dead, they’ve got another think coming,” Reed said. “They can expect potential protests, potential debates, and a lot of opposition from the public.”
Rather than leasing the beds to ICE, Reed and other opponents say the county should consider leasing to the state to alleviate overcrowding in prisons.
The ACLU of Idaho has also been following the negotiations, regularly submitting public records requests throughout the year to monitor interactions between ICE and the county.
In August, Capt. George Oppedyk, law enforcement commander with the Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, wrote to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to ask for a public endorsement of the proposal, saying the sheriff’s office had been “under extreme scrutiny by bleeding heart liberals and the ACLU,” per a letter obtained through a public records request by the ACLU.
The governor responded by urging the county not to be influenced by possible legal challenges “or other efforts at intimidation.”
The ACLU has continued to send in periodic records requests in the months since, said Kathy Griesmyer, policy director at the ACLU of Idaho.
If and when the county receives a contract, it will go to the Board of Commissioners for a vote.
“We’re not discussing it at all” until then, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Howell. “We’ll discuss it when we see the contract, if we get a contract, because that’s the vital part.”
McFall described the contract as “getting real close.”
“Of course,” he added, “they’ve been telling us all year that this is almost a done deal, and we’re still kind of waiting on it.”