Bakersfield

ACLU presses White House to block McFarland-led push to keep San Diego detention center open

The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the White House blcok an arrangement to keep a San Diego-based private detention facility open through a legal loophole that would see the City of McFarland as the overseer from 255 miles away.

In mid-August the McFarland City Council unanimously authorized city officials to seek a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to hold detainees to ensure that a 770-bed private detention center in downtown San Diego remains operational, known as Western Region Detention Center.

The city’s prospective deal with the Marshals Service would start on Sept. 30, the day the agency’s direct contract with private contractor GEO Group is set to expire on Western Region.

The San Diego center is a at risk of closure due to a January executive order penned by President Joe Biden.

The order bans the U.S. Department of Justice from directly renewing contracts for private detention facilities.

However, the agency can contract with GEO indirectly through a local municipality by a so-called “intergovernmental agreement.”

McFarland previously held an intergovernmental agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement until 2018 for operations of Bakersfield-based Mesa Verde Detention Center.

Under a prospective arrangement, the city of McFarland would receive $500,000 from the Federal government for its oversight of the Western Region facility in San Diego.

The ACLU, in a letter sent to the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, called on the Biden administration to block efforts to keep the facility open.

“If GEO’s cynical ploy to continue operating the Western Region Detention Facility prevails, it would render President Biden’s executive order meaningless,” Jordan Wells, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.

“The executive order is meant ‘to eliminate the use of privately operated facilities,’ not to continue their use under restyled contracts. The president must not forsake his commitment to remove profit motive as an obstacle to reducing incarceration in the United States.”

There is no current update as to whether the U.S. Marshals inked a deal with the City of McFarland.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.