EVANSTON — In a sudden twist in the ongoing story of the proposal to build an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Uinta County, representatives of Management and Training Corporation (MTC) notified county officials in late July that the company was no longer going to submit a response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the federal government on July 17. However, a different company, CoreCivic, has since expressed interest in submitting a proposal of its own.
Sabrina King, representative of the Wyoming ACLU and the WyoSayNo group formed to oppose the proposal, announced MTC’s decision during the Fiesta de Familias event held in Evanston on Sunday, Aug. 18. King said the decision only came to light following a public records request filed by WyoSayNo, through which the group received emails documenting MTC’s sudden reversal. King shared two of those emails with the Herald.
The Herald has submitted its own public records request, but those documents have not yet been received as of press time.
On July 26, Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson sent an email to the Uinta County commissioners, Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas and an MTC representative containing a draft of a press release to notify the public that MTC had decided not to respond to the RFP. However, in her reply email, Howieson-Kallas advised commissioners not to issue the release, stating it seemed “preemptive.”
“My advice is to not issue a press release,” the email reads. “Any comments made by MTC could be construed in a multitude of ways and the timeline for any action is still six weeks away.”
Howieson-Kallas told the Herald via email that at the time she advised against the press release, they were unaware as to why MTC had decided to withdraw and were contacted “within hours” of MTC’s notification by the financial group involved with the proposal, Municipal Capital Markets, who stated they were going to try to find a different management company to continue to pursue the project.
Howieson-Kallas said she knew the situation was likely to change in the “imminent future” and to “insure we were not maligning MTC by any reference and not mislead the public as to the situation,” she recommended not sending the release. She said they were also anticipating that MTC would itself issue a timely press release.
When reached for comment, MTC spokesperson Issa Arnita said, “MTC has decided it will not submit a proposal for an ICE facility in Evanston. We deeply appreciate the relationships we’ve had with the leaders and community of Uinta County and the City of Evanston. We wish them continued success.”
Arnita said it was a “tough business decision” based on many factors, including the rapid growth experienced by the company in the past several months, with multiple new projects tying up staff and resources.
Arnita further said MTC officials recognize the need for an ICE detention center in the area and “wish them success in finding a new facility.” The response further reads, “It is unlikely that ICE will be abolished, so the focus should be on finding the most humane transition process possible for those caught in the system. MTC fully supports immigration reform to improve the process for widening opportunities for legal entry, asylum and a road to citizenship for long-time residents in our country.”
Uinta County Commissioner Mark Anderson confirmed that, although MTC has opted not to pursue it, the possibility of a detention center being built in Evanston still exists as a different company, CoreCivic, has reached out to county officials about submitting a proposal. In order to vet CoreCivic, Anderson said he, fellow commissioners and members of the Evanston City Council were heading to California to visit a detention center on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Anderson said officials were “treading lightly” with the new proposal, given that MTC had pursued the facility for more than two years before backing out, and CoreCivic had just barely entered into talks with the county. He said he wants the public to understand it’s not the county pursuing the proposal.
“These companies are coming to us,” he said.
Hutchinson told the Herald that the county will pay for a portion of the trip and bill the city for the expenses incurred by city officials.
In its 2018 annual report, CoreCivic is described as “one of the largest prison operators” in the country and “the largest private owner of real estate used by U.S. government agencies,” with 51 correctional and detention facilities with a capacity of 73,000 beds. The report lists 2018 revenue at more than $1.8 billion.
Concerning immigration detention, CoreCivic says on its website that the company “never has and never will house unaccompanied minors.”
The site also states that the company opens and closes detention centers based on the current needs of its government partners.
“We provide the flexibility to be able to open and close immigration facilities as needed to meet our government partners’ needs, which change rapidly as inflows of undocumented immigrants can shift by hundreds of thousands of people from one year to the next,” the website states. “That’s why private contractors are such an important option for the federal government, in addition to its own publicly run facilities.”
Like many companies that operate for-profit prisons and detention centers, CoreCivic has seen its share of controversy. A lawsuit was filed against the company in late July by a woman whose 1-year-old daughter died not long after being released from a CoreCivic detention center in Texas. Earlier this month the Denver City Council voted against renewing multi-million-dollar contracts with CoreCivic and fellow private prison contractor GEO Group in an effort to cut ties with the companies.
As for the possible local project, the RFP for a facility within a 90-mile radius of Salt Lake City initially issued by ICE on July 17 had an original response date of 2 p.m. on Sept. 13. On Aug. 9, however, that RFP was amended and now reads, “This RFP is temporarily being put on hold and will be republished at a later date.”