GOSHEN — A private-prison company has filed a rezoning request to allow for the construction of a $100 million detention facility to house up to 1,400 immigrants.
CoreCivic, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, had its engineering firm, Jones Petrie Rafinski, file the request Monday morning.
“CoreCivic Properties is seeking to construct a facility which will provide services under the auspices of the U.S. of the Immigration, Custom Enforcement Agency (ICE)” [sic].
The application also states, “ICE has expressed the need for a facility to provide care for immigration detainees in the Chicago area for several years, and efforts to find a suitable location began during the previous administration. This is part of an ongoing effort by ICE to implement new detention standards and reforms by transitioning detainee populations around the country out of aging or inappropriate facilities into new, state-of-the-art civil detention facilities.”
The property involved is owned by Fir Properties of Elkhart and is 61.5 acres in size. No address is given, but the property is along the west side of C.R. 7, north of C.R. 26 and generally across the road from the Elkhart County Landfill.
The property is zoned Manufacturing-2 with a detailed planned unit development overlay due to a long-ago development project that never materialized, according to county officials. The property has been used as farmland in recent years.
The facility would be connected to Elkhart municipal water and sewer lines, according to the application.
CoreCivic would only purchase the property if the zoning is approved, according to company spokesperson Steve Owen.
“We have an option based on approval of zoning and other contractual contingencies including, without limitation, building and operating permits, utility requirements, etc.”
The detention facility would employ hundreds of local people, and perhaps have ICE employees on hand as well.
According to Owen, “We anticipate that it will take approximately 300 employees to operate the facility. Based on our experience at other facilities, we would expect ICE to maintain staff onsite for oversight and other purposes, but cannot speak to how many that would entail. Currently, more than 500 ICE employees are assigned to CoreCivic’s eight other detention facilities providing robust oversight.”
In its application CoreCivic outlines the scope of the project.
“The proposed facility will provide minimum-, medium- and maximum-security beds for adult detainees (male and female). On average, detainees are held for approximately 40 days. Detainees housed in such a facility are civil commitments who are either awaiting deportation to their country of origin or awaiting the outcome of their immigration status from the courts, which is a civil, not criminal, process.
“The overwhelming majority of individuals in a detention facility have been convicted of an unrelated local, state or federal crime by a court of law. Having served their sentences, they are transferred to ICE custody for civil deportation. ...”
The application cites federal rules for transportation of prisoners and to prevent sexual abuse and assault that the company will comply with at the facility.
Initially, the detention center would consist of two buildings, a 1,152-bed building and a separate 88-bed “special management unit,” according to the plan.
Owen defined special management units.
“A special management unit serves multiple uses, all of which are designed to maintain detainee safety,” he said. “For example, detainees whose actions pose a threat to themselves or others might be housed in special management, as might a detainee seeking protective custody. Any such housing assignments would be governed by ICE detention standards and subject to ICE oversight.”
The company said the design allows for the future addition of two more “units” to boost the capacity to 1,400 beds.
“The compound will be well lit, surrounded by security fencing and will include the most advanced security technology available,” the application states.
The main building will be 250,000-square-feet and be constructed of steel and masonry. Landscaping, lighting and a parking area will be part of the complex. The entrance will be onto C.R. 7.
Owens said the building would be similar to its Otay Mesa facility in San Diego, California, but could vary based on local building codes or requirements by ICE.
BUILDING FOR ICE?
While the application states the facility is being constructed for ICE, the application also explains that the proposal came about due to ICE’s October request for information for a detention facility within 180 miles of its office in Chicago.
ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico said Monday that no contract for such a facility has been granted to CoreCivic. She also said the same thing in November when contacted by The Goshen News.
“The current postings are Requests for Information (RFI); no contract will directly result from the postings.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of Acquisition Management and ICE Enforcement and Removals Operations (ERO) regularly conduct market research for the acquisition approach to re-compete current contracts or add new ones,” Alberico said in November. “The agency solicits feedback to identify potentially interested vendors, the potential locations, and types of facilities that may be proposed should a Request for Proposal be competed.”
She also added in her November statement that President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an increase of $1.2 billion in funding for detention beds to support an average daily population of 48,000 detainees.
Owen said the CoreCivic project hinges on what ICE does and if the company is successful in winning a bid for a new facility.
“At this point, ICE has not issued a Request for Proposals (RFP). Plans to build a facility hinge on ICE issuing an RFP and CoreCivic being the successful bidder. In anticipation of an RFP, we are hoping to secure zoning in advance. We would submit drawings as part of a response to an RFP.”
Monday was the deadline for filing zoning requests to be heard at the Jan. 11 Elkhart County Plan Commission meeting. The plan commission will be asked to give a favorable or unfavorable recommendation on the project to the three Elkhart County commissioners, who have the final say in rezoning matters.
According to the company’s application, CoreCivic would immediately begin the planning for building the detention facility once the commissioners approve the rezoning.