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.
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Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff