TWIN FALLS – The Jerome County Jail in south-central Idaho would be an ideal location to house immigration detainees and could eventually be used for immigration hearings, federal officials said.
In a document obtained through a public records request, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the site could be expanded to take in more inmates, The Times-News reported Sunday.
Federal officials are looking for a new location because of the loss last year of access to 300 beds at the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork, Utah. Using the Jerome County Jail could bring up to $1.37 million a year to the county, the document notes.
But county commissioners say nothing will happen until Immigration and Customs Enforcement brings them a potential contract. Commissioner Cathy Roemer said the sheriff’s office is negotiating with federal authorities.
“It’s something ICE is dealing with internally, and Jerome County is kind of just waiting for their response as to what they want to do,” said Commissioner Roger Morley, noting he doesn’t know the current status of any possible talks.
According to the document obtained by The Times-News, federal officials say there aren’t any facilities in Idaho or Montana where detention hearings can be held. That means detainees must be sent to Seattle or Salt Lake City, increasing transportation expenses.
“(Salt Lake City) believes the addition of 50 beds at Jerome County Detention Center would allow for streamlined detention operations and facilitate fewer and less frequent transfers of detainees out of state,” the document says.
The Jerome County Jail opened last year. It was built with an $11.2 million bond and built larger than the county needs with the plan to lease out beds to other jurisdictions. The jail has room to add four more wings housing 60 more inmates.
The document recommends Immigration and Customs Enforcement move forward with a contract with Jerome County, but avoid agreeing to a minimum jail number population.
The possibility of housing detainees in southern Idaho has led to opposition by some groups, including Jerome’s Hispanic community. The area has large dairy operations that employ Hispanic workers, and that industry has been lobbying against allowing federal officials to use the Jerome County Jail.
Some other opponents view the plan as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on people living in the country without legal permission.
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