Approximately 250 people were at a town hall meeting held last night to discuss the possibility of Littlefield housing illegal immigrants in the now vacant Bill Clayton Detention Center. The sentiment was mixed with some very strong opposition to the idea and some equally strong in favor of the possibility.
Littlefield City Manager Mike Arismendez spoke to the group at the beginning of the meeting. He said that Officials with the City had been in contact with Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) since July, 2012 about housing illegal immigrants in Littlefield. He said as recent as last week he has spoke to ICE officials all with the ultimate goal of keeping the City of Littlefield in front of Federal officials. He did state that there was no contract in place at this time and any contract would have to be taken before the Littlefield City Council for their approval. Arismendez stated that he understands the argument of illegal immigration, however, he stated it is a Federal Issue-not a local issue and he urges citizens to contact their representatives. He went on to say he has been charged by the City Council to get the Bill Clayton Detention Center Occupied since he was hired and he feels it is the wishes of most of the community to get the facility occupied.
The city of Littlefield would receive a per diem rate of $82-88 per person per day they are housed at the facility in exchange for providing food, housing, medical, education and recreation. It was pointed out that the education would take place inside the compound and that Littlefield ISD would be given the opportunity to have staff come to the compound to teach the classes, however, if they did not wish to then other school districts or teachers would have the opportunity. All medical care would also be done inside the compound, with the exception of a serious medical issue which required treatment at a hospital facility. It was pointed out that all immigrants would go through a health screening once they cross the border and another screening before going to the facility. Residents of the facility would not be allowed to leave the facility unless they are deported back to their home country or they obtain US Citizenship through legal measures.
It was pointed out that the Bill Clayton Detention Center has a capacity of 382 however ICE officials have said they could add cots in the gym area and house up to 600. In the event that the federal government passed an amnest law, immigrants could be released from the facility, however city officials said that ICE officials told them that statistics show that the immigrants will go where they have family.
Littlefield City Officials stated that they have a letter of support from Congressman Randy Neugebauer dated in 2013 which indicated his support for housing immigrants in Littlefield. The letter was addressed to ICE Chief Officials. However, KLVT News has received a statement from Randy Neugebauer this evening that stated it was not his goal now and it never has been to house illegal immigrants in Littlefield.
Housing Illegal Immigrants at the now vacant Bill Clayton Detention Center is estimated to bring $10 Million Dollars to the Littlefield economy which would be used to pay down the bond which currently has 18 years left on it before it is paid off. Currently the City is paying the $800 thousand per year out of the City’s General Fund or through Economic Development Funds.
A citizen of Lamb County spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting stating that he worked undercover with ICE and Arizona Highway Patrol and he stated that for every illegal immigrant that comes to the US there are drugs that come with them. He also said that immigration is a local issue and local law enforcement should be arresting and turning over to federal authorities the illegal immigrants that are already living in Lamb County. He further stated that he was a veteran and was part of a group of 2500 veterans that was prepared to take action from stopping any illegal immigrants from ever being housed in the Bill Clayton Detention Center.
Several citizens spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting, most expressing concern about the fact that ICE requires the razor wire be taken down from the facility and many citizens would like to see this put to a vote of the Citizens of Littlefield in the next election. It was noted by city officials they would have to see if this would qualify as a referendum which could be put on a ballot according to state law.
Again any final action will be taken by the City Council.