CHAPARRAL, N.M. (KRQE) – An immigration detention center in southeast New Mexico is getting a big paycheck from the feds, thanks to a new agreement. However, some worry it could encourage immigration officers to beef up arrests.
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According to new documents obtained by the ACLU of New Mexico, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is paying for hundreds of beds at the Otero Co. Processing Center, with a long-term deal in the works. The new agreement with private prison company Management and Training Corporation guarantees $2 million each month across its facilities for bed spaces, paid for by ICE.
“It kind of set a floor for how much money the company would get paid for the facility and it also increased how much they get paid for those 500 beds,” said Leonardo Castañeda with ACLU of New Mexico. “It represents potentially millions of dollars more for the company, even if the facility sat completely unused. Population numbers have been going up but it still means higher profits for the company or at least more revenue from the facility.”
Some worry this could have a negative impact on the state’s immigrant community. They say the bed spaces already paid for could encourage officers to go after people not normally on the ICE radar, like those with no criminal record and who are here with their families.
“There may be an incentive for ICE to be more aggressive because if you’re paying for 500 beds, you’re going to want to use them, whether those are folks who have been identified as a priority for immigration enforcement,” said Castañeda. “They could get detained and sent to these facilities because there’s that incentive to use them.”
The ACLU New Mexico tells KRQE the pandemic was likely a big driving force behind this agreement. Because many facilities saw decreased populations as migrants stayed with sponsors and their families, they also saw a decrease in funding per detainee.
“It undermined the profitability of a lot of these facilities,” said Castañeda. “It made companies like MTC to seek ways to ensure they’re profitable even if we moved away from mass detention.”
According to financial filings obtained by the ACLU, the contract between MTC and ICE expires at the end of this month. However, new filings show they’re already in negotiations for a long-term contract, which has some attorneys concerned.
“These kinds of long-term agreements kind of tie the hands of the government,” said Castañeda. “If they say, we’re going to pay you X-amount of money for 10 years, well if in five years, we decide as a government or a country that we don’t want these facilities, we’re kind of stuck.”
A representative with MTC tells us in light of concerns around the deal, they’re still committed to the safety and well-being of those in their facilities. KRQE also reached out to ICE for a response to the ongoing deal, but did not hear back.