EL CENTRO – Frustration mounted with the County Board Tuesday as they grappled with potential layoffs of 500 employees from the El Centro Service Processing Center (ICE) closure.
Raymond Castillo, District 5, said, “I’m really troubled and upset by the action taken by our federal government, the reason being that they should have studied the impact the closing of their facility would have on families, children, mortgages, and , were talking thousands of school children being effected. Hundreds of homes may go into default because of this action. This impacts the community in such a negative way, why don’t they do it in a transitional way?”
There has been no definitive word on whether the facility would close or not from the federal Immigration department, according to Ralph Cordova, County CEO.
Cordova said, “We are 65 days away from it shutting down, if it does. We need to do something quick.”
According to Cordova, the county has reached out to elected officials to support the county in persuading ICE to remain, or at least letting the employees and county know their plans.
Ryan Kelley asked that since verbal communication was not being well received, a written letter needs to be sent to local, regional and Washington D.C. offices to let them know what is happening. “That, if there is a plan, and their probably is, they are not sharing it with us. We need to get them to talk to us.”
Francisco Marquez, director of the workforce Development Office, reiterated that his department legally could not expend funds to retrain ICE employees or help them without a formal declaration from Immigration stating they were officially closing.
Marquez said his office has made several attempt[s to get official notification. There have been no pink slips nor warrant notices.
The county has reached out to the head of ICE , but he has not returned their phonecall.
“He is being unresponsive,” John Renison, Chairman of the Board, said.
A potential new employer for laid off ICE workers is the Imperial County Detention Center, a new detention facility that will be located on Highway 98 just west of the Interstate 7 and Highway 98 intersection, it will be hiring 120 trained correctional officers.
The proposed facility will provide for the short term care and housing of up to 1000 federal detainees, prior to deportation.
Requirements for the detention facility include the national detention certification and the American correction certification.
The 70 ICE employees that transport detainees are certified for baton use, hold a gun permit, and a chemical weapon certification which is for the spray they carry.
A specialized class at IVC to certify potential employees of the correctional facility will graduate 44 trained individuals this spring. Some ICE employees are hoping their previous training and experience will be accepted in lieu of the classes, while others from ICE are hoping to take the classes.
However, the specialized training class at IVC is impacted with a long waiting list. The county funds the class with local law enforcement officers teaching, they hope to expand classes over the summer and into fall to certify more correctional officers.
Marquez suggested since funds were not freed up to re-train ICE workers, their union might be willing to pay for the training to keep their men in the job market.
Michael Kelley , District 3, reminded the board that 120 spots at the new detention facility, and already there are double the amount of applicants at minimum.
Ryan Kelley remarked that since another detention facility will be opening in Chula Vista, and Riverside county and Arizona are already showing interest in the graduates from IVC, that it would behoove the county to offer more classes.
Kelley added, “I’m concerned with meeting the needs of the 500 waiting list to get into the academy at IVC. Agencies from Riverside, Arizona, and Imperial County are looking to draw from the academy.”
Marquez suggested to first see what will happen to the first graduates, before expanding the academy in numbers, over the summer and into fall. “ If 80 to 90 % of our graduates find jobs, then we should continue training and certifying. But if they aren’t placed it is a waste of their time, and energy and our resources. This is one of the most intense academies offered.”
The board directed Cordova to compose a letter asking them to dialog with the county on their future plans and most importantly, urging them to keep their facility open.
The board also directed staff to research the economic consequences resulting from the ICE closure.
“We need to quantify what the effects of the closure will be to the community”, said Castillo.
Michael Kelley noted,” If you take a bridge out, let us know, as we are traveling down the road at 70 miles per hour.”