Franklin County shuts ICE detention center

Says closure was a financial, not a political, decision

THE FRANKLIN COUNTY Sheriff’s office shut down its detention center for immigrants, saying the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was not steering enough detainees its way.

The 80-bed facility at the Greenfield jail dropped from an average of 65 immigrant detainees to an average of 20 in the past couple of years. On the final day of the contract, the facility held only nine detainees.

“More than a year ago, Sheriff [Christopher] Donelan called ICE and both parties agreed that a minimum of 30 detainees was needed to keep the contract going,” said a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “ICE has not met that threshold.”

The spokesman said the decision to shut down the facility was “financial, not political.”

The shutdown means ICE has only two detention centers left in Massachusetts – in Bristol and Plymouth counties. An ICE detention center at the Suffolk County Jail closed in 2019. The centers house immigrants facing criminal charges and/or deportation proceedings. Those without papers are also held at the facilities.

A spokesman for ICE in New England declined to comment on specifics of the agreement termination, but said the final nine detainees were transferred to a Plymouth correctional facility, which is almost 130 miles away from Greenfield.

Mario Paredes, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services who worked with the detainees in Franklin County, said the transfer was disruptive because video visitations with family members are not available in Plymouth.

“There was no notification to attorneys or family members, no public notice,” Paredes said. “A client of ours was told to just pack his bags and that he was being transferred out.”

Paredes said detainees should have been released to their homes.

ICE pays the county facilities for holding and transporting detainees and the money is transferred to the state’s general fund. ICE payments totaled $40 million over the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years for the four facilities that were operating then, according to public records acquired by CommonWealth.  According to a January 2020 report from Harvard Law School’s Immigration Clinic, Franklin County invoiced an average of $155,217 to ICE each month for the previous 30 months.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday called on the Biden administration to shut down 39 ICE detention facilities nationwide, including the facility in Bristol County run by Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a strong supporter of former president Trump and his immigration policies.

The ACLU said the Bristol County facility should be shut down because officials there used excessive force to deal with a violent incident in May 2020. The ACLU also said the Bristol County facility has already been substantially depopulated, and there is no practical justification for its continued existence.

Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU, issued a statement saying closing the detention sites should be a no-brainer. “Millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted to maintain thousands of empty beds and keep asylum seekers and immigrants in inhumane and life-threatening conditions,” she said. “The number of detained people is currently lower than it’s been in two decades.”