The Ninth Circuit Court heard oral arguments for the expansion of immigration detention centers in McFarland on Friday and immigrant rights advocates are hopeful the court will rule against the case.
The GEO Group has pushed to convert the two empty prison facilities in McFarland into annexes for the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility since February. In July, a judge signed an injunction stating the McFarland City Council defied the Dignity Not Detention Act putting a temporary halt to the conversion.
Christina Fialho, the co-founder and co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, said the courts should not allow the private prison’s plan to go any further.
“No city should be so hell bent on appeasing the limbs of a corporation that it flouts the law,” she said referring to the Dignity Not Detention Act. “We are hopeful that the courts will side with transparency over corporate greed.”
Some McFarland city officials believe the expansion will create jobs. But Charles Joseph, a San Bruno community leader who had been detained at Mesa Verde, said it would mean more people like him will live in fear.
“It’s this threat I face,” he said. “Me and my family face this threat of me not being here. It's real and it’s horrible.”
In a statement, the GEO Group said, "as a service provider to the federal government, our company plays no role in decisions related to immigration enforcement activities."
Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill, AB 32,that would phase out private prisons and immigration detention centers in California by 2028. The bill prohibited the state from renewing contracts or signing new contracts with a private prison company after January 1, 2020.
Shortly after the governor signed the bill, ICE posted a solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities website for four new detention centers in California. Immigrant rights advocates slammed ICE’s decision, saying the agency circumvented the law.
The federal government and the GEO Group sued the state over the bill, but on Thursday, a federal judge ruled AB 32 is constitutional.
Still, a spokesperson for the company said they remain confident the court will rule in favor of expanding the detention center. If the court allows for GEO’s expansion it will be the largest expansion of detention centers in the state.