Debbie Wasserman Schultz Calls Out Southwest Ranches Mayor for Silence on Detention Center

We reported last week from the scene of a Southwest Ranches town hall meeting where so many people showed up to protest a proposed immigrant detention pen that BSO deputies just started blocking people from entering the council chambers, citing fire code.

The detention center wasn't on the agenda -- it's been in the works for years now -- and it was mentioned on the record by only a few activists who made it in for the public-comment period. A few weeks earlier, Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff made a few heads spin with his comment that a "cone of silence" existed over the issue of the detention center, because Homeland Security and the prison contractor "asked" council members not to talk about it.

Well, pissed-off residents have gone to what may be their last resort: local congressional representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And she sent a letter to Mayor Jeff Nelson, rebuking him for the perceived lack of transparency.

Wasserman Schultz had previously signed a letter in support of the detention center, much to the ire of her Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines constituents who say "Not in my backyard" (that's actually a sign that some of them have held up at rallies). But when the accusations of silence and mystery start flying? Now that's something even a heavily funded, consensus-building congresswoman can take a stand against.

Hours before the town council meeting on Thursday night, Mayor Nelson apparently had a phone conversation with Wasserman Schultz. We don't know what was said, but you can get some idea from her follow-up letter:

Residents are still trying to finalize a proposed meeting at Wasserman Schultz's Pembroke Pines office with her aide, Jodi, and a representative from ICE.

But ICE, as a federal agency, isn't in the habit of sending out public-relations envoys for coffee and cake. That's what a Pembroke Pines city commissioner, Angelo Castillo, recently learned on a trip to D.C. to meet about the center with Ann Steel, deputy assistant director for congressional, local, and Indian affairs for ICE. In a letter to a resident, he wrote:

She said that ICE rarely meets with residents in the setting that I requested. However, at my request, she is presenting my request to her superiors and legal counsel for review and promised to get back to me with a response in writing in early November.

Castillo also reported that Steel claimed no knowledge of a request from Homeland Security for the "cone of silence" referenced by Poliakoff... leading residents to think that the request came solely from the prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America.

More updates as we have them.

Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff

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