On Thursday morning the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) broke the story on its web site that "The corporation that runs the federal immigration detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats plans to expand the facility’s capacity by 50 percent.  --  When completed, the Northwest Detention Center should be able to hold up to 1,500 immigrants in federal custody."  --  The Northwest Detention Center is owned by The GEO Group, a corporation with an unsavory past (see below).  --  GEO "has made no formal announcement" and did not return calls, Scott Fontaine reported.  --  The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also declined to comment.  --  But Tacoma officials confirmed that "the company has been in talks with the city manager’s office and the Tacoma Police Department."  --  An updated piece published in the News Tribune's Fourth of July issue on Friday quoted Tim Smith of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma taking issue with Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson's view that the prison's "status as an essential public facility under the state’s Growth Management Act restricts Tacoma’s ability to prevent its growth."[2]  --  "[Smith] believes the detention center shouldn’t be considered an essential public facility because it’s privately operated and pays taxes.  --  'The facility has never demonstrated its capability to evacuate the occupants,' said Smith, a critic of the center since it opened.  --  'The city could act to stop the expansion on this condition alone,' he said.  'But then the city would have to acknowledge that it overlooked this issue in the first place.'"  --  BACKGROUND:  The history of the Northwest Detention Center is rife with controversy that has rarely surfaced in the mainstream media.   --  GEO took over the private, for-profit immigration prison in 2005, when it bought out Correctional Services Corporation (CSC).  --  Founded in 1987 as the Esmor Corrections Corp., CSC was an ill-reputed private prison company that with the connivance of local officials placed the controversial facility on a Tacoma Tidflats former Superfund cleanup site of dubious safety in 2003-2004.  --  CSC had been prospecting for a site to build a private prison since 1999.  --  It was local businessman and investor Kevin Phelps, then on the Tacoma City Council, who worked to bring the prison to Tacoma.  --  CSC's poor record was known long before Phelps introduced Resolution No. 34,722 of the Tacoma City Council, but the Council affirmed at Phelps's urging that "CSC has an excellent reputation in the communities where it has facilities."  --  The News Tribune turned a blind eye to the developing story, and no one informed the public that the larger movement of prison privatization has become a subject of controversy in legal circles, or that in 2006 the American Bar Association organized a panel discussion about the unsavory "gold rush" in federal detention facilities, specifically citing the GEO Group.  --  GEO was formerly known as Wackenhut before a name change in 2003 that was designed to obscure the colorful, dubious past of a company founded in the 1960s by four FBI agents with extreme right-wing views.  --  (In Age of Surveillance [Vintage, 1981], Frank Donner wrote that the Wackenhut Corporation maintained dossiers on Americans suspected of being Communists or left-leaning "subversives and sympathizers," selling the information to interested parties and updating its files even after the McCarthy hysteria had ebbed and adding the names of antiwar protesters and civil rights demonstrators to its list of "derogatory types.")  --  Statements on the prospective size of the Northwest Detention Center have turned out to be of a piece with this dubious history.  --  In 2002, the News Tribune called it "a 500-bed detention facility."  --  In 2003 and 2004, AP and the Seattle Times said the facility would have 700 beds.  --  Later, it was sometimes reported that the facility would be able to "expand" to hold 800 prisoners.  --  In March 2005, then-owner CSC mentioned "890 beds" in a financial report.  --  In September 2006, the Seattle Times reported that capacity expected to grow to 1,000; this was made official in January 2007.  --  At 1,500 beds the center will have tripled in size in only four years.  --  But the days when the NW Detention Center could grow quietly appear to be over.  --  "The expansion may fuel controversy over the facility, which has become a local flashpoint of the nation’s immigration debate," Scott Fontaine noted Friday.  --  "The detention center has been the subject of several protests in recent months, including some in downtown Tacoma." ...

1.

IMMIGRATION CENTER PLANS EXPANSION
By Scott Fontaine

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
July 3, 2008

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/updates/story/404167.html

The corporation that runs the federal immigration detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats plans to expand the facility’s capacity by 50 percent.

When completed, the Northwest Detention Center should be able to hold up to 1,500 immigrants in federal custody.

The GEO Group, the Florida-based company that runs the detention center, has made no formal announcement. Several voicemails left with its spokesman were not returned. Calls to the Northwest Detention Center were referred to a spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who said the company is handling the expansion and therefore should answer all questions.

But the company has been in talks with the city manager’s office and the Tacoma Police Department, officials confirmed. They weren’t certain about the cost or timetable of expansion, but the company’s contract with the federal government for use of the Tacoma facility is set to expire in April 2009, according to the company’s Web site.

The expansion may fuel controversy over the facility, which has become a local flashpoint of the nation’s immigration debate. The detention center has been the subject of several protests in recent months, including some in downtown Tacoma.

“There’s a lot of debate of the function of the facility as it stands today,” City Manager Eric Anderson said. “Expanding that will only intensify that debate. It tends to get focused on the facility. The larger the role of the facility, the more intense the debate can get.”

Even if the city were opposed to the expansion, Anderson said, its status as essential public facility under the state’s Growth Management Act restricts Tacoma’s ability to prevent its growth.

The detention center holds immigrants detained throughout Pacific Northwest and is almost always at capacity, officials told the *News Tribune* in November. Many detainees enter federal custody after they’re arrested during raids or through Criminal Alien Program, in which federal officials take custody of illegal immigrants incarcerated in local or state jails or prisons.

The average stay at the detention center just over a month. An Executive Office for Immigration Review courtroom inside the facility hears the cases, and most detainees are deported to their countries of citizenship. About half of those in custody are routinely Mexican, but citizens from almost every country on earth have passed through the facility. The majority of detainees are held only for being in the country illegally.

ICE did not request the expansion of the facility, ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, and the current contract for use of the Northwest Detention Center still calls for The GEO Group to supply 1,000 beds.

The $115 million facility opened in 2004 with the ability to hold about 500 detainees, replacing a 160-bed center in Seattle. It has since expanded twice.

The company’s original contract with the government ran from April 2004-April 2005 but contained four one-year options, according to its Web site.

The GEO Group operates 67 facilities throughout the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom. It also has plans to expand or build sites this year in Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, and Colorado, according to a June conference call. Most of those sites are correctional facilities.

In a letter from Anderson to an engineering consulting firm working on behalf of The GEO Group, the city manager said Tacoma’s Public Works Department “no immediate issues with regards to impact on existing services” but added that company must undergo the full permitting process before expansion.

The Tacoma Police Department has met with officials from the detention center about the expansion, spokesman Mark Fulghum said.

He added that the few problems with the Northwest Detention Center have stemmed from protests.

“It’s not an issue as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “We’ve had no problems with the officials there. They’ve been great to work with.”

2.

Local

DETAINEE FACILITY TO EXPAND
By Scott Fontaine

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
July 4, 2008

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/story/404714.html

The corporation that runs the federal immigration detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats plans to expand the facility’s capacity by 50 percent.

When completed, the Northwest Detention Center should be able to hold up to 1,500 immigrants in federal custody.

The GEO Group, the Florida-based company that runs the detention center, has made no formal announcement. Several voicemails left with its spokesman this week were not returned. A spokeswoman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said the company is handling the expansion and therefore should answer all questions.

But the company has been in talks with the city manager’s office and the Tacoma Police Department, officials confirmed. They weren’t certain Thursday about the cost or timetable of expansion.

The expansion may fuel controversy over the facility, which has become a local flash point of the nation’s immigration debate. The detention center has been the subject of several protests in recent months.

“There’s a lot of debate of the function of the facility as it stands today,” City Manager Eric Anderson said. “Expanding that will only intensify that debate. It tends to get focused on the facility. The larger the role of the facility, the more intense the debate can get.”

Even if the city were opposed to the expansion, Anderson said, its status as an essential public facility under the state’s Growth Management Act restricts Tacoma’s ability to prevent its growth.

Timothy Smith of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma disagrees. He believes the detention center shouldn’t be considered an essential public facility because it’s privately operated and pays taxes.

“The facility has never demonstrated its capability to evacuate the occupants,” said Smith, a critic of the center since it opened.

“The city could act to stop the expansion on this condition alone,” he said. “But then the city would have to acknowledge that it overlooked this issue in the first place.”

The detention center holds immigrants detained throughout the Pacific Northwest and is almost always at capacity, officials told the *News Tribune* in November.

Many detainees enter federal custody after they’re arrested during raids or through the Criminal Alien Program, in which federal officials take custody of illegal immigrants incarcerated in local or state jails or prisons.

The average stay at the detention center is just over a month. An Executive Office for Immigration Review courtroom inside the facility hears the detainees’ cases, and most are deported to their countries of citizenship.

Most detainees are held only for being in the country illegally.

The ICE did not request the expansion of the facility, federal spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, and the current contract for use of the Northwest Detention Center still calls for The GEO Group to supply 1,000 beds.

The $115 million facility opened in 2004 with the ability to hold about 500 detainees, replacing a 160-bed center in Seattle. It has since expanded twice. [NOTE: In fact, this will be at least the fifth time the reported capacity of the facility, originally announced as 500, has been increased (to 700, 800, 890, 1000, and now 1500); see the introduction above. --M.J.]

The GEO Group operates 67 facilities throughout the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

In a letter from Anderson to an engineering consulting firm working for The GEO Group, the city manager wrote that Tacoma’s Public Works Department had “no immediate issues with regards to impact on existing services,” but added that the company must undergo the full permitting process before expansion.

The Tacoma Police Department has met with officials from the detention center about the expansion, spokesman Mark Fulghum said.

He added that the few problems with the Northwest Detention Center have stemmed from protests.

“It’s not an issue as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “We’ve had no problems with the officials there. They’ve been great to work with.”

Scott Fontaine: 253-320-4758

blogs.thenewstribune.com/street