By Tara Law
May 19, 2019

As the U.S. immigration system strains with the highest number of apprehensions at the southwestern border in a decade, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is looking at opening new detention facilities in California.

ICE is considering using existing facilities or constructing new facilities in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco areas to house between 5,100 to 5,600 detainees, according to official documents posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. The facilities would be used to house “criminal aliens and other immigrant violators,” the documents say.

The move comes as U.S. border patrol said it would consider flying migrant families from states along the border to other locations across the country.

ICE has faced significant opposition to opening new detention facilities in the past. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union and 13 other groups issued a letter imploring ICE to halt plans to open new facilities across the country.

Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the ACLU, called the move “deeply disturbing” in a statement. “The ICE detention system is already notorious for inhumane and abusive conditions as well as lack of transparency and accountability,” she said. This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s dangerous immigration policies.”

California has been at the forefront of efforts to limit ICE’s plans to build new facilities. In 2018, the state passed a law that blocks local governments from starting contracts with private companies that run prisons. Several California cities ended contracts with ICE over the last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, leading to the loss of 434 beds.

ICE stipulates that each facility must have access to hospitals, immigration court, fire stations and transportation hubs. It also states that an “ideal” facility would have minimum, medium and maximum security beds for adults, according to the documents.

“Facilities must provide housing, food, maintenance, laundry, utilities, and dental/medical/mental health care,” the documents say. “Dedicated ICE facilities are preferred, but facilities shared with other detained populations will be considered as long as appropriate separation of ICE detainees is possible.”

GEO Group, a private company that operates and manages 69 correctional and detainment facilities across the country, has been accused of pressuring local governments to end their contracts so that GEO can partner with ICE, enabling them to get around the law restricting new facilities, according to the Chronicle.

Hamid Yazdan Panah, an attorney and advocacy director of the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, told the Chronicle, said that it appears that ICE and GEO worked together to circumvent the law.

“It seems to indicate that all these things are part of a larger push by ICE to make up for the bed space that they lost in the closure of the facilities,” he said.

The announcement comes as the U.S. immigration system has strained to cope with an increased number of asylum applications, a surge of apprehensions at the border, and increased pressure by the Trump administration to pursue aggressive immigration policies.

U.S. Border Patrol told reporters on Friday that it plans to fly migrant families from states along the border to places across the U.S. for processing, according to the Associated Press. The flights were scheduled to fly out three times a week starting Friday, and do not have a scheduled end date. Preliminary plans include flights from the Rio Grande Valley to Buffalo, Detroit and Miami. On Friday, Border Patrol also announced plans to open four temporary structures in the Rio Grande Valley.

Detentions at the border have surged over the last year. More than 109,000 people were apprehended there this April, more than double the number detained the year before. However, the number of detentions is still significantly less than the number who were apprehended in the early 2000s; in April 2000, more than 180,000 people were appended. The majority are families or children traveling by themselves.

During the Trump administration, ICE has stepped up its efforts to detain immigrants inside U.S. borders. It conducted more 158,581 administrative arrests of people accused of civil violations of U.S. immigration laws in 2018, compared to 110,104 in 2016.

Write to Tara Law at tara.law@time.com.

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