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Shepherd takes the plunge, OKs Emerald’s immigrant detention bid despite company’s past

Less than a week after Cleveland City rejected a proposal from Emerald Correctional Management, neighboring Shepherd voted 4-1 in favor of letting Emerald pursue a bid on a new 1000-bed immigrant detention center in the small city, according to the Houston Chronicle (One community welcomes bid for detention center, another rejects it, Oct. 29, 2015).

Emerald CEO Steve Afeman told the Houston Chronicle that his company was bidding on a 10-year federal contract, with a guaranteed 750-bed occupancy rate, avoiding problems that have plagued other private prison or detention facility contracts in years past as inmate populations have dwindled.

Mayor Niki Coats, who cast the vote that doomed the proposal in Cleveland City, told the Chronicle, "After doing all the research about the industry and the company and the individuals with the company, I was strongly against it,” Coats said. "They approached us with all these numbers, but it doesn't add up.”

Debra Hagler, Shepherd City Secretary told the Chronicle that if Emerald did walk away from the facility or their obligation, as the company did in Encinal, the small city "would try to lease it, sell it, to some other company that can use it."

Hagler and other Shepherd officials would have done well to learn what happened to another Texas town that had to face this contingency. Littlefield, Texas struggled for years after private prison company the GEO Group pulled out of the troubled Bill Clayton facility.

Cleveland City narrowly rejects for-profit immigration detention proposal

Cleveland City Council in October rejected a bid from Emerald Correctional Management LLC of Shreveport, Louisiana, to build a new for-profit immigrant detention center in this community 50 miles northeast of Houston, according to a report from (Cleveland City Council rejects immigration detention center proposal, Oct. 21, 2015)

Those who came to speak against the proposal talked about what the detention center would do to the community’s image and the company’s dubious track record (which includes leaving Encinal, Texas and $20 million in debt). Even the usual private prison promise of “bringing jobs” drew sharp rebuke. Cleveland attorney Mollie Lambert said that only meant 300 home foreclosures would follow in the future.

Emerald’s General Council Hull Youngblood spoke before the council and promised that the detention center will have a 75 percent occupancy guarantee and no families housed inside the building, possibly referring to the family detention centers in South Texas that a federal judge earlier this year ordered to release children detained there.

“It comes with a guarantee of 10 years of occupancy,” Youngblood, the Emerald representative, promised council members.

Such guarantees are all too common in immigrant detention centers. A report from Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights explains how insidious such guarantees (sometimes called local quotas) are:

[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE’s contracts with private detention companies have exacerbated the effects of the federal detention bed quota by imposing local “lockup” quotas, contractual provisions that obligate ICE to pay for a minimum number of immigration detention beds at specific facilities, referred to in contracts as “guaranteed minimums.” Because guaranteed minimums require payment to private contractors whether beds are filled or not, ICE faces considerable pressure to fill them. Local lockup quotas that serve to protect the bottom line of private companies thus incentivize the imprisonment of immigrants.

Youngblood previously testified to Cleveland City Council in October that the proposed Cleveland unit, once operational, would have around 295 employees for Emerald and another 100 for ICE. All would be paid at the federal wage scale. For Emerald employees, this would mean an average annual salary of $43,000. As for why ICE wants to build in the area? Youngblood said ICE wants detention facilities to be within 50 miles of an international airport, in this case Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

In August, The Cleveland Advocate contacted County Judges in other Texas communities where similar facilities were built, Polk County Judge Sidney Murphy: why build a new immigrant detention center so close to Livingston where one sits less than half-full? The Advocate reports that Judge Murphy told them: Polk County, the IAH Detention Facility operated by MTC of Utah and built a little more than 10 years ago is required to pay the county a per diem fee per inmate. However, the population of the 1,000-bed facility is so low, with only 300 beds being used, it is no longer generating any income for the county.

The final vote against the detention center in Cleveland was 2-2 with Mayor Niki Coats casting a swing vote against the proposal.

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