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ICE exploring possible Baltimore-area detention facility to hold 600 to 800 detainees

ICE exploring possible Baltimore-area detention facility to hold 600 to 800 detainees
Razor wire is seen on the Metropolitan Detention Center prison as mass arrests by federal immigration authorities, as ordered by the Trump administration, were supposed to begin in major cities across the nation on July 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to expand detention center capacity near Baltimore. (David McNew/Getty)

Federal immigration enforcement officials are exploring the possibility of opening a detention center near Baltimore capable of housing 600 to 800 men and women.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement posted an advertisement in April on a federal contracts forum seeking to identify one or more potential locations in Maryland. A new facility would join Maryland’s three existing ICE detention centers in Frederick, Howard and Worcester counties.

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ICE spokeswoman Justine Whelan said in a statement that the agency is “continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring acquisition options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody.”

Whelan said ICE officials will use the responses to the advertisement to determine whether the agency wishes to move forward with issuing a more formal request for proposals.

The deadline for Maryland submissions was April 18. The Baltimore Sun filed a Freedom of Information Act request to view the submissions, but ICE officials missed the deadline to respond.

Any submissions received by ICE would not be considered a formal offer and cannot be used to form a binding contract, according to the ad.

The listing is an early step in gathering information that may help the Department of Homeland Security broaden its holding capacity in Maryland. The ad states ICE would consider existing facilities, newly constructed facilities or physical additions to existing structures.

ICE officials posted the ad a few months after ending an agreement with Anne Arundel County to house up to 130 detainees at a correctional center in Glen Burnie. ICE officials did not say at the time why they canceled the contract. ICE paid the county a minimum of $1.7 million a year under the contract.

The cancellation came about a month after County Executive Steuart Pittman ended Anne Arundel’s participation in ICE’s 287(g) program, through which 12 county guards were trained to screen and send information about inmates’ immigration status to federal authorities.

Whelan said the cancellation did not prompt ICE officials’ decision to look for new detention center opportunities in Maryland.

Immigration authorities have been stepping up arrests nationwide and have proposed creating multiple new detention centers across the country. President Donald Trump also announced plans for raids this month to arrest thousands of undocumented immigrant families in cities including Baltimore.

The agency has about 250 detention centers across the country that held an average of more than 42,000 immigrants each day in the federal government’s 2018 fiscal year for such things as unlawful entry and deportation.

The advertisement for a new Maryland detention center says ICE officials want the site to be within a 50-mile radius of its Baltimore field office, located at 31 Hopkins Plaza. It should serve as a transportation hub for picking up and dropping off ICE detainees and be capable of providing minimum, medium and maximum security beds, according to the ad.

Some immigration advocates, like those at the ACLU of Maryland, oppose the expansion of detention centers.

The nonprofit is in the early stages of organizing an opposition to ICE’s potential expansion in the state, according to Nick Steiner, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Immigrants’ Rights fellow at the ACLU of Maryland.

Steiner also sent a public records request to ICE officials in May asking to view any responses and has not received an answer. The ACLU is treating ICE’s failure to respond to the information request as “constructive denial," Steiner said. Suing the government agency is a possibility, he said, but added the organization is looking at other options.

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More bed space in federal detention centers means more people incarcerated, Steiner said.

“I think caging people, especially extremely vulnerable people like asylum seekers, is extremely inappropriate,” Steiner said. “It re-traumatizes people who have already experienced trauma just trying to get here.”

ICE officials say prospective Maryland facilities should be capable of providing detention, medical care, guard services, meals, transportation and other services for exclusively adult women and men detainees, according to the ad.

Among other desired qualities, the facility will have at least 30 beds in a medical unit and 20 to 30 segregation beds. It should be within about 30 minutes of emergency services including medical, fire and law enforcement.

The facility also should be located within 90 minutes of Baltimore-Washington International and Harrisburg International airports for the Justice Prisoner & Alien Transportation System, which moves prisoners between judicial districts, correctional institutions and foreign countries, the ad states.

Brandon Wu, a Washington resident and community organizer with Sanctuary DMV, said he and other individuals in the Baltimore region have been trying to gather information about who responded to the ads by making phone calls to local jails, county executives, and sheriffs in hopes of stopping the creation of a new center.

“It’s all part of this broader national trend,” Wu said. “There are a lot of fights happening around the country that are very similar to this, and we’re making a pretty concerted effort to plug into that and be a part of a nationwide effort. ... We really want to be part of a coordinated movement.”

Capital Gazette reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this article.

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