Your humble Southwest Ranches ICE jail correspondent was on vacation last week, coincidentally on a tour of Civil Rights-era landmarks in the Deep South, when news broke that ICE had decided not to pursue a detention facility on a plot owned by CCA in Southwest Ranches.
But about 90 minutes later, that news unbroke. The office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which had called officials with Pembroke Pines and Southwest Ranches as well as an antiprison activist with news of the cancellation, called back to say the information was premature.
It appears that Wasserman Schultz's office got a heads-up from ICE about a cancellation, then got a call back with word that the deal was still on. What happened at ICE headquarters in those 90 minutes, and what calls were made between that agency and the lawyers at CCA to set the record straight, we may never know.
Residents Against Inappropriate Development, the PAC opposing the facility, wrote on its blog about hearing the news:
Needless to say, we were elated. We have confirmed that this message was communicated to the mayor and/or the city manager of Pembroke Pines by [Schultz staffer Jodi] Davidson. We waited to announce this breaking news until either an ICE official corroborated the story or ICE issued a formal press release with the announcement.
After multiple attempts to get a confirmation both from Washington DC and south Florida ICE officials, we put the announcement on hold.
After the confusion, Wasserman Schultz's spokesman, Jonathan Beeton, issued an explanation to the media:
We were notified Wednesday by ICE's Office of Congressional Relations that ICE had decided not to move forward with the detention facility and we asked whether we could convey this information to individuals and organizations who had previously contacted our office on this issue. ICE said that it was fine for us to convey this information and we spoke with local leaders informing them of ICE's decision. Within hours of this ICE once again contacted our office, this time to state that no final decision had been made regarding their proposed detention facility in SW Ranches. We share our community's frustration over the conflicting information from ICE.
Pembroke Pines, which is facing a lawsuit from CCA for retracting its offer to provide water and sewer services to the site, also has a big stake in whether ICE pulls out of Southwest Ranches. Ranches Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff has told the Pulp that if CCA loses the ICE contract, it could go after Pines for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. And Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge was also baffled by the mixed messages from the congresswoman's office last week. After the mix-up, he sent ICE the following letter, including an FOIA request for communication between ICE and Wasserman Schultz's office.
Ltr to Gary Mead From Charles Dodge Re City of PPines Town of SW Ranches Proposed Den Tent Ion Facility (1)
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Either somebody at ICE was severely mistaken -- and convinced enough that ICE had bailed to tell Wasserman Schultz and be fine with her office disseminating the news -- or ICE quickly backtracked and kept the CCA site in the running. Poliakoff later tweeted an apology for the confusion and said the deal was still on. Still, this doesn't exactly communicate that a CCA detention facility in Southwest Ranches is a sure thing anymore.