People across Wyoming and Utah are fighting back against an effort by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the third largest U.S. for-profit prison corporation, to build a new 600-bed immigrant detention center in the small town of Evanston, WY.
With ICE ramping up arrests across the country, increasing 30% to over 143,000 arrests last year, the White House has demanded the construction of more immigrant detention centers. MTC’s proposed facility would meet a federal request for a new ICE facility near Salt Lake City, Utah.
In response, immigration activists and progressive organizations in Wyoming have created the Wyo Say No coalition to mobilize the public against the proposal. For the last year they have marched, rallied, held vigils, and organized community BBQs around the state “celebrating our community and the families that live in it.” Activists in Salt Lake City, calling themselves ICE Free SLC, have also protested the proposed facility and even locked themselves inside MTC’s corporate headquarters in July.
While MTC and its supporters in local government tout the jobs and money that the new detention center would bring to Evanston, opponents say a new ICE prison is absolutely unacceptable and would bring fear to immigrant residents and their families.
Houses of abuse
As these activists have pointed out, MTC has a long track record of abuse and neglect in its facilities, similar to other prisons and immigrant detention facilities across the United States.
In Texas, for example, MTC ran the Willacy County Correctional Center from 2006-2011. This ICE prison was known as “tent city” or Ritmo — the Gitmo of Raymondville, Texas. People detained here have told horror stories about maggot-infested food, mold, rats, and flooding. After not being properly fed, they say they were given antacids to curb their hunger.
ICE detention centers in general have a history of delaying medical care (LINK: https://www.thenation.com/
Shocking conditions like these are not unusual or out of place for ICE, an agency whose foundational purpose is to terrorize immigrants.
Preying on poverty
Evanston is a small town of less than 12,000 people, about an hour-and-a-half outside of Salt Lake City. Nestled in the Uinta Mountains, Evanston came to be during the first Transcontinental Railroad project and has experienced a history of boom and bust ever since. In the late 1970s, a full-scale oil boom transformed Uinta County when thousands of workers moved to the area to work on oil rigs. Other white-collar workers followed, transforming the town into a busy and culturally diverse area. When the boom began to wane in the mid-1980s, many established businesses began to shut down, and by the late 1990s, Evanston residents were forced to adjust to a “post-boom” life. Since 2010, Evanston has seen its population decrease.
Today, Evanston is one of the poorest towns in Wyoming. Per capita income for residents is $24, 233, and 18.3 percent of families and 21.7 percent of individuals are below the federal poverty line. Statistics also show that 30.7% of residents under the age of 18 are in poverty. Unemployment in Uinta County is higher than the statewide average, and to many it seems that job options are limited to fast-food restaurants or the service businesses that line I-80.
Town and county officials who support the proposed construction of the immigration detention center use Evanston’s lack of jobs as an argument to persuade residents into accepting the proposal. They claim the prison would boost the local economy by providing tax dollars and much needed employment.
Opposition activists are pushing back against this logic. They cite, for example, how MTC has forced the state of Arizona to pay it $3 million in back pay for removing 238 inmates from a facility due to horrendous conditions. MTC requires states to pay it for administering a certain number of “beds,” whether those beds are filled or not, another way they take advantage of local towns and states.
Opposing ICE terror with solidarity
Evanston’s story is not unique. It is one of many rural areas whose residents are asked to consider building a prison or detention center in order to access capital and jobs. This is one of the many perverse features of a capitalist system that relies on mass incarceration and detention as methods of social control, and hires for-profit prison contractors to carry it out.
The good news is that progressive people in and around towns like Evanston, Wyoming are mobilizing and speaking out. They are saying no to the construction of yet another detention center to imprison and intimidate their neighbors, friends and family members. Even though the federal government and private prison contractors try to steamroll small towns into building immigrant prisons, they can be resisted. Ultimately, justice demands the total abolition of ICE and the end of the capitalist system which terrorizes undocumented workers for the sake of profit.