New state bill could close Mesa Verde facility, other private prisons

Mesa Verde Detention Center to remain open

The state’s private prisons, including the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, could be forced to close next year under a new bill. 

Assembly Bill 32 would phase out the state’s private prisons by 2028, including ICE facilities such as Mesa Verde. The bill, which was passed by state legislators last week, is expected to be approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom this fall. 

Mesa Verde is located on Golden State Avenue and is operated by Geo Group Inc.

“We’re really hopeful and really excited about this bill. We believe it will make California the first in the country to put a comprehensive check on immigration detention,” said Cynthia Galaz, policy monitor with the nonprofit organization Freedom for Immigrants. 

ICE Spokesperson Paige Hughes said the department does not comment on public legislation. However, she spoke generally about the possible impact the bill could have if approved. 

“We have the ability to flex and adapt, as California represents about 10 percent of our total capacity, but the majority of the impact would be felt by the detainees and their families,” Hughes said.

If the bill is signed, Hughes said detainees at ICE’s California facilities would be transferred to facilities in other states, which would cause a significant physical divide between detainees and their families. 

“ICE has national network of detention centers. Any change in that network would undoubtedly have an impact on those in our custody, as we detain them near their support systems,” she said. 

While Galaz acknowledged ICE’s intention to transfer detainees to other states  if the bill is approved, she said she’s hopeful that will only be for the short term and that the bill will lead to the end of immigrant detention across the country. 

“I still think this is a huge win because it creates a model for the rest of the country to follow on how we can fight ICE at a state level. We’re already seeing other states moving in this direction,” she said.

Galaz said she’s confident that Gov. Newsom will sign the bill, as immigrant detention was an issue he campaigned on in his bid for the governorship. 

This bill isn’t the first time that the future of the Mesa Verde facility has been in question. Last year, a service agreement the facility had been operating through with the city of McFarland was canceled.

Due to a 2017 state law, cities and counties can’t enter into new contracts with federal agencies or private corporations that detain immigrants, leaving the future of the Mesa Verde facility in doubt.

ICE entered into a one-year contract directly with Geo Group in March that will keep the facility open through March 18, 2020. However, if AB 32 is signed by the governor, that would likely prevent an extension of the contract beyond March and cause the facility to close. 

“Unfortunately, AB 32 works against the state’s Proposition 57 anti-recidivism goals approved by the voters,” GEO Group said in a statement provided to KGET. “Individuals in our facilities are part of our Continuum of Care that intensely focuses on rehabilitation programs and post-release support services, helping inmates earn their re-entry into society as productive and employable citizens.”

Assemblymen Vince Fong and Rudy Salas as well as Sen. Shannon Grove voted against AB 32.

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