EVANSTON — The three-year on-again, off-again saga of the proposal to construct an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center in Uinta County is once again off.
CoreCivic notified the Uinta County Commissioners on Tuesday, April 6, that the company no longer intends to submit a response to the federal government’s request for proposals issued last year.
A press release issued by the county commissioners on Wednesday referenced a statement by CoreCivic, which reads, in part, “CoreCivic is proud to have partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more than three decades. … However, we will not be submitting a response to the Salt Lake City Area of Responsibility (AOR) RFP. After participating in the process to date in good faith, there were ultimately a number of factors that made it difficult for us to consider proceeding. We appreciate the support we’ve received from Evanston, Uinta County and the surrounding community. Throughout this process, Uinta County officials have been engaging and deliberate in their efforts to inform themselves about the proposed facility and advocate for its potential benefits on behalf of their community.”
The notification marks just the latest chapter in what has been a lengthy and often controversial process for Uinta County residents.
The possibility of constructing an ICE facility to service the Salt Lake City region was first raised during a public meeting at Evanston City Hall during the spring of 2017.
At that time, Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC) had approached local officials with the possibility of constructing a 500-bed facility in the county to serve as a processing center for individuals apprehended due to their lack of U.S. citizenship while they awaited court hearings and determinations on their legal status.
Since that time, the issue has at times faded to the background and at others raised fierce debate among county residents and others over the possible economic implications, the wisdom of embracing a for-profit detention facility and the role local governments can or should play in federal immigration policy.
Both the Evanston City Council and the Uinta County Commission passed resolutions in support of an ICE facility during the summer of 2017, citing the economic benefits in terms of property taxes and potential high-paying jobs for area residents.
While the proposal was supported by many, others continuously pushed back against the idea during multiple county commission meetings over the years.
The issue also resulted in the launch of WyoSayNo, a statewide group formed specifically to fight the proposal.
After a period of relative quiet, the proposal came to the forefront in the summer of 2019, when the federal government finally issued a request for proposals to construct a facility to house up to 1,000 detainees, and it appeared MTC would be responding to that request.
However, the situation abruptly changed when MTC announced its decision to no longer pursue such a facility, after more than two years of talks and planning with local officials, and CoreCivic quickly stepped into the void left by MTC’s departure.
Things progressed rapidly after CoreCivic entered the fray, with sometimes angry constituents confronting county commissioners on more than one occasion.
Several county commission meetings and a public forum with representatives of CoreCivic featured packed rooms and scores of community members sharing their opinions, both for and against the proposal.
County commissioners and the city council again passed resolutions in favor, this time in support of CoreCivic, and ultimately Uinta County Commissioners Eric South, Craig Welling and Mark Anderson voted to enter into an agreement to sell approximately 60 acres of land near the Bear River State Park at the end of what has been dubbed “The Road to Nowhere” for purposes of construction.
That agreement allowed CoreCivic to explore and consider the sale for up to one year prior to finalizing the real estate exchange and an undisclosed sum was paid to the county as earnest money.
With CoreCivic’s announcement, that sale has now failed to materialize.
The county press release said commissioners “remain open to continued relations with CoreCivic and fostering economic development;” however, there was no indication given as to the reasons behind CoreCivic’s decision and Anderson said commissioners themselves were not privy to that information.
While the Wyoming ACLU and WyoSayNo statements applauded the development, Anderson described the CoreCivic decision as a “disappointment” and said he was personally hopeful about the jobs and economic benefits a facility would have brought to the community.
He emphasized the decision does not mean that the construction of an ICE facility in Uinta County is “never going to happen.”
“We’ve been down this road before,” said Anderson, noting that MTC had also abruptly announced a decision to no longer pursue the facility.
He said it’s possible the federal government could decide to extend the time frame for proposal submissions or other as yet unforeseen events could occur.
Anderson said he has no idea if the decision is at all related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty it has created, while indicating it is not his intention as county commissioner to seek out another company to continue the pursuit of a proposal.
Requests to CoreCivic for additional comments on the decision resulted only in a restatement of what was contained in the county-issued press release.