Council weighs future of ICE contract
Published 2:30 pm Friday, September 22, 2023
If the Farmville Town Council terminated its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), what would actually change? That’s what council members want to know before making a decision. Farmville has what’s known as an intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA) with Immigration Centers of America (ICA), the group that operates the ICE detention center in town. A council majority wants to end the contract, but would like to know first what impact that would actually have. Would the facility shut down as a result? Or would things simply continue as they are now, but just without the town’s involvement?
“I feel like it would probably be in our best interest to see, if there is no revocation from it, possibly entertaining the idea of withdrawing from this,” council member Thomas Pairet said. “(But first), I would like to know the ramifications to make sure we’re not getting into something we can’t handle.”
The only thing council members know for certain right now is that they would lose some money if they pulled out. Now the real estate tax, personal property tax, business license and water and sewer would still come in, as long as the facility operates. But the town would lose the per diem fee, a yearly payment made as part of the IGSA agreement.
The amount has shifted over the years. In fiscal year 2019, it was $259,016. One year later, that dropped to $210,670. In fiscal year 2021, that dropped to $182,500 and the reduction continued from there. In fiscal year 2022, the town received $167,000 and this past fiscal year, the per diem was $182,500.
Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis told council members during their meeting on Sept. 13 that the town could absorb not getting the per diem.
“We’re growing in other categories business wise,” Davis said. “We have some other interests in the coming future for the town. In a year and one month, we’ve made almost a half a million by investing our money. I don’t know that money is the issue.”
Meanwhile, council members say they’re tired of seeing the town’s name linked to the center when it makes headlines.
A COMMON PRACTICE
The council also has been asked repeatedly, as we mentioned, by family members of those detained to release their loved ones, when that’s not something they have control over. They’ve also been asked to shut down the facility, but as it’s a private company, again, that’s not something the council can do.
“There is not, to my knowledge, the chance that this body can free anybody,” Farmville Mayor Brian Vincent told the crowd during council’s Wednesday, Sept. 13 meeting. “We don’t have that capacity. That’s a federal issue. And even if we were to decide at some point in the future to separate ourselves from that intergovernmental agreement with ICA and ICE, that does not end immigration detaining. That does not end that ICA facility, that just ends us being a part of it in any shape or form.”
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS
Multiple ICE officials made that clear when The Gazette reached out over the last week. If the Farmville facility were to shut down, they said, that doesn’t mean everyone inside would be free. They would simply be transferred to another ICE facility. As proof, they provided The Gazette with the Detention Facility Termination of Agreement documents. First, the document states any closure would have to be ordered either “by ICE or the agreement holder”, which in this case is the privately owned and operated ICA facility, not the town.
If the facility were to close, then ICE would “notify the DOCC of the number of noncitizens to be relocated so that it can begin coordinating transfers to other facilities.” DOCC in this case stands for Detention Operations Coordination Center.
In that situation, the only way for detainees to be released would be the same as it is now, the document said, a legal challenge through the court system.
So why does ICE have a contract with Farmville in that case? Nobody at ICE could give The Gazette an explanation. In fact, the only one came from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). It provides auditing and investigative services for Congress. In a January 2021 report, the GAO stated that by contracting through towns as a “middleman”, it helps agencies like ICE bypass some requirements.
“The agency is typically able to enter into IGSAs more quickly than contracts because IGSAs include fewer requirements and less documentation than contracts,” the GAO report said. “For example, unlike contract requirements, according to ICE guidance there is no legal requirement to competitively award an IGSA. Further, when awarding an IGSA, ICE is not required to evaluate the past performance of detention facility operators. Under (contracts), however, ICE requires that prospective contractors submit information on their performance in recent contracts.”
The National Immigrant Justice Center echoed that in a policy brief they shared with The Gazette.
“These (IGSAs) usually entail a “pass-through” arrangement, allowing local officials to act as middlemen for ICE and private companies,” the brief said. “With these agreements, ICE contracts with local governments, side-stepping procurement laws that govern contracts with private companies. The counties or municipalities hosting the detention centers then contract directly with the same private companies that operate the facilities, receiving kick-back funds from the private operators. The most recent GAO findings assert that ICE uses IGSAs intentionally to bypass procurement laws and open government requirements.”
COUNCIL WANTS MORE INFORMATION
All of that brings us to where we are now. The current IGSA with the town expired on Sept. 15. According to Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis, officials with the Farmville detention center didn’t send a new version until hours before the council meeting on Sept. 13. That did not win the hearts and minds of council members.
By unanimous vote, council members asked Davis to look into the ramifications of not signing the IGSA contract and report back next month. They also asked for patience while this plays out.