Immigration detention center gets the construction go-ahead in Clearfield County

Written by on November 16, 2021

Immigration detention center gets the construction go-ahead in Clearfield County

By Anthony Orozco / WITF

November 16, 2021

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will partner with Florida-based Geo Group to renovate a former prison into the largest immigration detention center in Pa. (Photo | WPSU / File)

Clearfield County’s path to establish the largest immigrant detention center in the commonwealth is unencumbered.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has moved to dismiss its lawsuit against the county for violating the state’s open meeting laws.

The lawsuit claimed the county commissioners broke open meeting laws by not giving the public enough time to review agenda.

“We decided to dismiss the case after the county commissioners held a second meeting to consider the contracts,” said Vanessa Stine, an immigrant rights lawyer with the group, in a written statement. “That meeting was properly announced in advance and gave the public a chance to weigh in.”

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The suit stemmed from the board of commissioners not publicly advertising a Sept. 28 meeting agenda 24 hours before their vote. It could have potentially put the brakes on the project and voided contracts related to the center.

At the meeting, commissioners approved contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and private prison corporation GEO Group to convert the nearly 1,900-bed Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility into an immigrant detention center.

The prison closed on March 31, after the U.S. Department of Justice declined to renew its contract in light of President Joe Biden’s executive order to no longer partner with private prison corporations. But, the order was targeted at the DOJ, not federal immigration agencies.

County Commissioner Chair John Sobel said the county published a meeting agenda 19 hours before the original vote. After being sued by the ACLU, the county scheduled a second public meeting Nov. 3 to satisfy a part of the complaint.

“Rather than fighting it out in court, we had no problem with just scheduling a meeting to grant the relief that was asked,” Sobel said a day after the meeting.

Commissioners reaffirmed the contracts after hearing public comment on the matter, including from immigrant advocacy group and plaintiff on the lawsuit, Juntos.

Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Núñez addressed the commissioners at the most recent meeting.

“Immigration detention is dehumanizing, whether it’s run by a government or a corporation and it’s unnecessary,” Núñez said, according to Juntos’ twitter account. “People in our communities are best served by being at home with their loved ones while their immigration cases proceed.”

Stine said beyond open meeting laws, the detention center is not the answer to the nation’s imimgration issues.

“The Biden administration, Clearfield County, and GEO Group are engaged in systematic separation of families and breaking apart of communities.” Stine said “People with pending immigration cases should be home with their loved ones while their cases proceed.”

The main reason the Clearfield commissioners support the project is jobs and money for the county, according to Sobel.

“We just think that it will be a significant boon to the local economy, particularly the Moshannon Valley area of the local economy,” Sobel said.

The county stands to gain more than $263 million over five years, according to the contract.

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