CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLUPA) filed a lawsuit Thursday against Clearfield County commissioners saying they violated state law when they approved to open an immigration detention center.
The lawsuit was filed in the Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of two residents and the immigrants’ rights group Juntos who said county commissioners failed to provide public notice before their meeting that is required by state law, according to the union. This failure they said doesn’t allow the community a chance to comment on the contract.
“In our democratic form of government, the public has a right to know what elected officials are doing,” ACLUPA Executive Director Reggie Shuford said. “The county commissioners are required by law to inform the public of their business, and they failed to do so in this instance.”
County commissioners approved two contracts on Sept. 28 with the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the GEO Group, a company that invests in private prisons. The contracts would repurpose the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center to operate as a federal immigration detention center. The facility would reportedly be able to hold an estimated 1,900 people making it the largest immigration detention center in the Northeast.
“As a local resident, I expect the county commissioners to comply with the law. That’s a reasonable request,” Clearfield County Resident Tim Smith said. “The Sunshine Act requires the county to inform the public of its business so that people can comment in an open and public meeting. The county commissioners took a great deal of input from GEO and ICE but almost none from the public.”
ACLUPA and Juntos are also advocating for the Biden administration to expand an executive order issued earlier this year to end contracts with private companies for criminal prison operations to also include contracts with private companies for immigration detention.
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“The Biden administration is handing a massive facility to a field office that is hostile to our communities which opposes holding people in immigration detention while their civil immigration cases proceed, Juntos Executive Director Erika Guadalupe Nuñez said. “And its operations will be run by a private company that is notorious for abuse and dehumanizing conditions.”
The GEO Group stated in September that upgrades to the facility would take place to prepare for its opening within 45 to 60 days of the agreement.