SOUTHWEST RANCHES -- Twenty-four acres nestled east of the Everglades are stirring up trouble months after a proposed detention center on the site was declared dead.
Town officials received a letter in February from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that makes some in the town think the federal government is still inclined to build a detention facility in the region.
"It's likely, if you read between the lines, ICE will reissue a procurement for a facility within the region," said Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff.
Town Mayor Jeff Nelson said building a detention center on that 24-acre site, which is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, has been part of the town's plan since 2000.
"We have an agreement with CCA and certainly if it's something that [ICE] is re-examining in the region we'd be interested in it," said Nelson.
The letter also arms the town with evidence that Pembroke Pines may be one of the reasons ICE decided to back out of the center, said Poliakoff.
The battle over the center goes back nearly two years when the site became the front runner for a $75 million, 1,500-bed immigration center.
But ICE said it wouldn't build the center shortly after Pembroke Pines voted not to provide water and sewer service to the site. Southwest Ranches filed a lawsuit against Pembroke Pines suing the city for $2 million a year for breach of contract. The lawsuit is still ongoing.
Now, the most recent letter from ICE has added fuel to the fire.
The letter says, "Based on several considerations, ICE decided it would not pursue a facility in the Town of Southwest Ranches. Although ICE decided not to continue with a facility in the Town of Southwest Ranches, we are reexamining our detention strategy in the region."
Originally ICE said it rejected the center because it was reassessing the need for bed space. But Poliakoff said the town knew there were other reasons behind the agency's decision.
"The town knew privately the reason was strongly due to Pembroke Pines and the associated water issues," said the town attorney. "In this letter for the first time, ICE publicly acknowledges that it was based on several factors."
Pembroke Pines' attorney handling the case, Bruce Johnson, was out of town this week and not available to comment.
The town's renewed conversation with ICE began when officials got wind that ICE said Southwest Ranches removed itself from consideration of the facility. That was the never the case, said Town Administrator Andy Berns.
"We were surprised to hear that," he said, which prompted him to send a letter to ICE correcting the record and restating the town's interest in finalizing an agreement for the center.
But hearing about the detention center still stirs up bad memories for some Pembroke Pines residents.
"If there's a need, go through the appropriate process ... It's a matter of finding the right location," said Pembroke Pines resident Scott Duarte, who opposed the center. "It seemed ridiculous to put it next to schools or a housing development."
Other residents have questioned the need for a facility and more beds in the region since scores of undocumented immigrants were released from South Florida detention facilities last week because of federal budget cuts.
"Clearly they don't need another prison," said Pembroke Pines resident Ryann Greenberg, who is opposed to the center.
ICE officials wouldn't say whether the region needs another immigration facility. CCA also said it doesn't currently have any plans for the site.
"I don't set the policy, I don't know the needs at the federal level," said Nelson. "But we're certainly interested in a relationship with ICE."
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