U.S. officials are preparing to house up to 1,000 immigration detainees at a federal prison in Victorville as part of a Trump administration plan to expand the use of detention during its crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally.
The use of the facility and others run by the Bureau of Prisons “is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Friday.
The number of people apprehended at the Southwest border has increased steadily in recent months. While overall apprehensions remain at historic lows, the numbers are up significantly compared with figures from President Trump’s first months in office.
The plan to use the federal prisons was first reported by Reuters.
In addition to the recent surge in crossings, Bennett said the increase in detention space is needed because of the Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for the prosecution of all people who illegally cross the southwest border.
The Victorville Federal Correctional Complex houses about 3,700 inmates in a high-security prison, two medium-security prisons and a minimum-security camp.
It is just a few miles from the Adelanto Detention Facility, which can house nearly 2,000 men and women pending the outcome of their immigration cases.
In addition to 1,000 prison beds in Victorville, ICE will have access to 209 federal prison beds in SeaTac, Wash.; 230 in La Tuna, Texas; 130 in Sheridan, Ore.; and 102 in Phoenix.
The agency also plans to work with the U.S. Marshals Service, private detention facility operators and local government agencies as it expands the number of beds available for immigrant detainees, Bennett said.
“ICE continues to enforce immigration laws consistent with the administration’s directives and the law. This includes ensuring sufficient detention space to hold aliens prior to removal or adjudication by an immigration judge,” she said.
The move comes several months after California approved a law limiting the expansion of for-profit detention centers in the state.
It also comes as employees at the Victorville prison have been loudly complaining about nationwide budget cuts and staff reductions, which they say create dangerous situations for staff and inmates.
In a letter to employees of the Victorville Federal Correctional Complex, John Kostelnik, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3969, which represents workers at the prison, said the union had learned about the plan Monday.
“We are not staffed adequately to accommodate this change in our mission. Nothing should be implemented prior to ensuring we are at a proper level of staffing,” he wrote.
In April, the union put up dozens of billboards around Southern California that read, “Budget cuts may lead to death in federal prisons.”
Kostelnik said in his letter that information about the transfers had been scarce.
“The answers I am currently getting from management are ‘I don’t know.’ That is not sufficient and if they don’t know then it probably shouldn’t be done, as these so-called leaders should never throw us into a mission where they simply do not know!” he wrote.