A Guard with the GEO Group, Inc., uses an electronic device to log his visual inspections of cells in a special housing unit during a media tour of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Tacoma, Wash. The GEO Group is the private company that operates the center for the U.S. Government.
Anthony Orozco is the Latino communities reporter for WITF. Anthony joined PA Post in May 2020 as a Report For America corps member and transitioned to WITF in August 2020. He has worked in central Pennsylvania as a journalist, poet and community organizer since graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Cincinnati in 2012.
(Philipsburg) — Clearfield County’s path to establish the largest immigrant detention center in the commonwealth is unencumbered.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has moved to dismiss its lawsuit against the county for violating the state’s open meeting laws.
“We decided to dismiss the case after the county commissioners held a second meeting to consider the contracts,” said Vanessa Stine, an immigrant rights lawyer with the group, in a written statement. “That meeting was properly announced in advance and gave the public a chance to weigh in.”
The suit stemmed from the board of commissioners not publicly advertising a Sept. 28 meeting agenda 24 hours before their vote. It could have potentially put the brakes on the project and voided contracts related to the center.
The prison closed on March 31, after the U.S. Department of Justice declined to renew its contract in light of President Joe Biden’s executive order to no longer partner with private prison corporations. But, the order was targeted at the DOJ, not federal immigration agencies.
County Commissioner Chair John Sobel said the county published a meeting agenda 19 hours before the original vote. After being sued by the ACLU, the county scheduled a second public meeting Nov. 3 to satisfy a part of the complaint.
“Rather than fighting it out in court, we had no problem with just scheduling a meeting to grant the relief that was asked,” Sobel said a day after the meeting.
Commissioners reaffirmed the contracts after hearing public comment on the matter, including from immigrant advocacy group and plaintiff on the lawsuit, Juntos.
Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Núñez addressed the commissioners at the most recent meeting.
“Immigration detention is dehumanizing, whether it’s run by a government or a corporation and it’s unnecessary,” Núñez said, according to Juntos’ twitter account. “People in our communities are best served by being at home with their loved ones while their immigration cases proceed.”
Juntos exec. dir. Erika Guadalupe Núñez attends the Clearfield Co. commissioner meeting this afternoon.
The special meeting is in regards to the nearly 19,000-bed ICE detention center slated to be housed in the county. https://t.co/tyPUZxOmmt
Stine said beyond open meeting laws, the detention center is not the answer to the nation’s imimgration issues.
“The Biden administration, Clearfield County, and GEO Group are engaged in systematic separation of families and breaking apart of communities.” Stine said “People with pending immigration cases should be home with their loved ones while their cases proceed.”
The main reason the Clearfield commissioners support the project is jobs and money for the county, according to Sobel.
“We just think that it will be a significant boon to the local economy, particularly the Moshannon Valley area of the local economy,” Sobel said.
The county stands to gain more than $263 million over five years, according to the contract.