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Bill To Ban Private Lockups Would Impact Immigrant Detention In San Diego

A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.
Associated Press
A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.

A new bill passed by the state legislature on Wednesday bans the use of private detention centers in California. If signed into law by the governor, advocates say it would be the first such ban in the country.

In San Diego, the new law would mean finding another way to handle migrants, who may face deportation.

Bill To Ban Private Lockups Would Impact Immigrant Detention In San Diego
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Detention centers used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are covered under the law. In California, there are four large detention centers that are privately run for immigration detainees across the state. They can hold up to 4,500 people at a time.

Video: New California Bill Bans Private Detention Centers, San Diego's For Profit Prisons Impacted

One of the largest facilities is run by the company CoreCivic in Otay Mesa. It has a capacity for up to 1,500 people and is currently in the midst of an expansion. Under the new law, a facility like this would no longer be allowed to extend their contracts to operate within the state.

Immigration advocates applauded the bill, which will also ban the use of private detention for people in the state prison system as well.

RELATED: Documents Allege Serious Medical Neglect Inside Otay Mesa Detention Center

“Detention nationwide is at an all-time high because one of the principal factors is the financial incentive to detain immigrants,” said Jackie Gonzalez, the policy director for California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, which helped push for the bill.

“We saw that when private prison stock went up 100% with Trump’s election, and the rate of detention has grown with this administration.”


Advocates believe that instead of shifting detainees to government-run facilities, ICE could simply release them, like many other immigrants facing possible deportation.

“People do not need to be transferred," Gonzalez said. "We’ve had closures in the state of California, and we were able to have just and humane closures where many people were released to their families.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for CoreCivic told KPBS that the company helps relieve the strain of a large detention population local governments. It adds, “attempts to eliminate options for other governments in crisis are misguided.”

ICE’s current contract with Core Civic in Otay Mesa expires in 2023.

Climate change is impacting us here and now. In KPBS’s coverage of San Diego’s Climate Change Crisis, we profile a couple who lost their home to wildfire but rebuilt in the same place. Plus, a new bill passed by the California legislature last week bans the use of private prisons and detention centers. For San Diego, that could mean finding a different place to keep more than a thousand detained migrants.

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