Wyo Say No: Maggots, mold and infestations have activists speaking out against the proposed immigration jail in Uinta County

By on January 10, 2018

A proposed Uinta county detention center for illegal immigrants taken into custody by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement has drawn the ire of many Wyoming groups who say the proposed center represents an unfair immigration system.

A coalition of groups has banded together to organize against the proposed jail facility Saturday in Cheyenne, with other gatherings being held across the state and even in Colorado in solidarity with the Cheyenne event.

Antonio Serrano of Cheyenne is the founder of Juntos, a nonprofit that helps immigrants in Wyoming and one of the organizers of #WyoSayNo, a grassroots coalition organizing Saturday’s events. Juntos says the company’s track record of running detention facilities is a source of worry for him and others.

“The generations that are born here are needed to step up and make our voices heard,” Serrano said. “We’re part of Wyoming, and we’re intertwined into every single part of it.

The proposed center would be built in Uinta County, near the town of Evanston. The facility is described as a 500-bed facility that would house non-dangerous inmates without criminal pasts besides their alleged immigration violations. The inmates at the facility would be housed there while they await their immigration hearings in Salt Lake City.

The facility was described as something that looks like a high school or community college, only with tall fences surrounding it.

According to Serrano, both women and men will be housed at the Uinta county facility if it is opened. Juntos and the other groups protesting the immigration facility are hopeful that won’t happen.

While the detainees that would be held there are held for ICE, the facility itself is not operated by that agency. Management & Training Corporation – or MTC, of Centerville, Utah – a private, for-profit corporation, would carry out the day-to-day operations at the facility instead.

MTC runs immigration detention centers in California, New Mexico and Texas. It also operates prisons in eight states. The company also operates job centers under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor, including one in Riverton.

On its website, MTC describes itself as a company that has “a mission to help improve people’s lives,” though rehabilitation programs at its correctional facilities, operating health facilities in prisons, and providing workforce training at job centers like the one in Riverton.

The company’s website is replete with pictures of former “clients” who point out how the company has helped them in the course of their incarcerations, or by helping others develop job skills.

But MTCs record may not be so clean, and that is one of the issues activists are concerned about regarding the proposed immigration jail in Uinta County.

An MTC-operated immigration detention center in Raymondville, Texas – known colloquially as “Ritmo” by some familiar with it – closed after years of alleged inmate abuse culminated in a riot that forced the closure of the facility.

In the years leading up to the riot, inmates and staff complained of maggots in food, mold, backed up toilets, insect and rodent infestations. Other inmates alleged the facility was distributing uncleaned underwear and clothing to inmates.

A nurse at the facility testified before Congress about acute shortages of medical care at the facility, with 20 of the facility’s healthcare positions in the prison unfilled.

In 2011, a guard at the facility pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a female inmate at the facility.

A recent series of inspections of ICE detention facilities, including one owned by MCC in Otero County, New Mexico, found multiple violations of ICE’s own standards for inmate care. In a report released in December, the inspector general’s office said at some facilities inspectors found rotten food being served.

At the Otero County facility, inspectors noted that inmates were often sent to solitary confinement in violation of ICE’s own guidelines regarding inmate treatment.

Even MTC’s non-prison or detention facility businesses have not escaped allegations of poor management. The company is currently fighting a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming, alleging management at the company’s Green River jobs center discriminated against Native American workers, despite the fact the center was located close to the Wind River Reservation in part to provide services to that population.

In Uinta County, the county commission and town council of Evanston acted quickly to approve construction of the facility, citing the economic impact the detention center would have on the area. The town’s mayor cited the addition of 100-150 job with a minimum salary of $21 per hour as a key economic reason to approve the project, according to reporting in the Uinta County Herald.

Given MTCs problems, as well as a system that appears to be punishing people unfairly, Serrano is not convinced.

“We don’t need jobs that bad,” he said.

Serrano described himself as a first-generation American, and someone who feels a tremendous connection to the state of Wyoming as the place where he grew up. Those housed at the immigration facility are deeply connected to the state, and industries such as farming, ranching and ever-important tourism.

That’s why Serrano and other organizers of the #WyoSayNo movement and the event to be held Saturday are so vocal about it. Not only will having a facility like the proposed immigration detention center hurt immigrants, it will be detrimental to everyone in Wyoming because it will tear at the sense of community so many have come to enjoy about living in the least populated state in the nation.

For Latinos and Latinas in the state, it is time to stand up and fight for their families, he said, saying those who came here before them did so that their children may have a shot at a better life.

“We’re a part of every single part of Wyoming, we’re going to lose a lot of people and we’re going to hurt Wyoming.” PJH

The campaign launch will be held 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday in Cheyenne at the Laramie County Library at 2200 Pioneer Avenue. The event will be streamed live on the internet with viewing house parties in several cities and towns across the state. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/146261459427770/ or https://actionnetwork.org/event_campaigns/wyosayno-campaign-launch-satellite-event-signup




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