County aims to build bridges with Trump administration

The proposed border wall and increased deportation efforts have already begun to impact the county.

The Calexico Port of Entry. Additional funds are still needed to complete its expansion, which might be limited due to the proposed border wall project. File Photo.

EL CENTRO — Imperial County has begun to feel the effects of the Trump administration as the Imperial County Board of Supervisors addressed implications during Tuesday’s general meeting of increased deportation efforts as well as the impact of the national border wall project on the Calexico port of entries.

The Board deliberated on how soon the proposed border wall would reach the Imperial Valley.

“We have reason to believe that they’re going to start it in Calexico,” said Supervisor John Renison. “That’s not confirmed yet.”

Companies have already begun to submit their “request for proposal” (RFP) to design prototype wall structures for the project.

“It appears that the RFP for Phase 1 will be due on March 20th,” explained County CEO Ralph Cordova, referring to a pre-solicitation notice from the Department of Homeland Security posted March 3rd. “It’s moving pretty quick.”

However, the Board agreed that they would continue to press for the $248 million from legislators needed to complete the next phase of the expansion of the West Port of Entry in Calexico, which Renison said would solve much of the local needs related to the border.

Cordova shared his concern that unexpected construction of a wall would take funding away from the Port of Entry expansion. He recounted his message to legislators during a recent trip to Washington, D.C:

“We already have a wall. Take the money you’re going to spend on improving that wall and put in the land port of entry.”

In light of the construction of the wall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has offered to also pay for a debris screen to be built where the New River enters the U.S. from Mexico, according to comments made by Renison. If so, additional funding would be available for the New River Improvement Project, which also includes the establishment of wetlands and aeration structures. The screen is projected to cost $4 million, not counting yearly maintenance.

“In regards to the wall, I think there will be a lot of jurisdictions that will be sending letters in opposition to the improvements,” said Supervisor Ryan Kelly, in advising how the County should respond to the wall project. “But rather than sending a lawyer stating our opposition, why don’t we send a letter focusing on our direction and input, that we would like to see Port of Entry improvements.”

“We’ve been working on this Port of Entry in phase one, and now we’re stumbled with the fact that [funding] may be redirected somewhere else,” agreed Chairman Michael Kelley. “They should go forward and finish their obligation and finish the Port of Entry.”

The wall wasn’t the only unforeseen national issue affecting Imperial County.

The Board was also notified of a request by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to substantially expand the capacity of the Imperial Regional Detention Facility for detained illegal immigrants. The facility opened in 2014 and is located just east of Calexico at the Gateway to the Americas.

According to Mike Murphy of Management and Training Corporation (MTC), which operates the detention center under contract with ICE, the facility currently has 700 beds for detainees. Murphy noted that ICE requested over another 250 beds to be added to the facility, as well as another 1000 in an adjacent building.

However, Murphy said that ICE is currently a billion dollars over budget, with additional funding still pending. Management and Training recently completed a $7 million expansion of an office building for ICE just outside of the Calexico facility, where 75 to 100 ICE agents are expected to be located.

Detainees at the Calexico facility are held on average 129 days, during which they have access to various services and programs, including anger management, ESL classes, janitorial and laundry work programs, and parenting classes. Detainees can also attend various religious services at the facility.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been touted as a model facility for immigration,“ said Murphy. “The accommodation MTC has built for the immigrants there and detaining the immigrants is one of a very humanistic nature.”

The detention facility currently has 239 employees and 207 correction staff.

Murphy confirmed MTC’s efforts to help local residents understand and meet the requirements in applying for jobs at the facility, which likely will increase with the expansion of the facility.