The Pulp tried to attend last night's meeting of the Southwest Ranches town council, but BSO Deputy Lee Roselli and Cmdr. Wallace Haywood wouldn't let us inside the council chambers. So we remained outside with the 50 or so local residents who were loudly protesting an immigrant detention facility that the town wants to build on a nearby plot of land. Another complaint: the lack of transparency surrounding its approval and development.
Think of the detention center (don't call it a jail, says ICE) as a hotel, run by a private for-profit company, for 1,800 people. Except all the guests are from other countries, and all of them are held their against their will before being loaded onto vehicles or unmarked white planes and deposited back in their native countries.
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a hotel that pays a municipality $600,000 up-front and a chunk of its expected yearly revenues (3 to 4 percent), as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) plans to do, according to a 2005 resolution
. Cash-strapped Southwest Ranches could use the money.
Last night, the tiny parking lot of the town hall had overflowed, and cars were parked along the driveway and in a lawn bordering the lot. Shortly after 7, when the council meeting began, a large group of men, women, and children bearing signs and chanting "CCA, go away" marched from the town hall entrance out to Dykes Road. Multiple television crews, including Spanish-language channels, were recording the proceedings.
The protest was organized by a handful of people, including Bill Di Scipio and Ryann Greenberg, who had sent out a news release about the demonstration earlier this week.
"Lies! It's all lies! They're a bunch of dirty politicians!" shouted one of the protesters, Darlene Reyes. She pointed out that the detention center had been in the works for years while residential areas sprung up around it. "Why did they allow all these communities to be built around the area that they knew was going to be a prison?" she asked.
Alison Burns, who lives in Southwest Ranches, says many people are unaware of the planned facility. "People in Southwest Ranches don't know about it," she said.
The crowd was largely made up of Pembroke Pines residents as well, since Pembroke Pines is actually closer to the site. In fact, the site is discontiguous from the rest of Southwest Ranches -- standing alone as an island exclave -- since the town annexed it after it was purchased by CCA
from local developer Ron Bergeron in 2002.
That's right: This is the result of a long period of planning and speculation, only now coming to a head. Southwest Ranches asked for this mess.
Now Pembroke Pines is facing complaints as well. Pines Commissioner Iris Siple, who attended last night's rally, said she's "listening to residents about what their concerns are... they're not happy." She agreed that Pembroke Pines will bear the brunt of the day-to-day impact from the facility. "[The rest of] Southwest Ranches isn't even near it," she said.
Deputy Roselli said BSO had an increased presence at town hall yesterday evening because of the protests. He explained that they weren't letting any more people into the town council chambers -- though at one point, open seats were clearly visible -- because "the fire marshal said they can only hold 53 people."
Many of the protesters signed up to give three minutes of public comments before the council, but even the ones who signed up were not allowed into the chambers before their names were called and relayed into the crowd outside by Cmdr. Haywood. Di Scipio, one of the organizers, planned to sit at the microphone for three minutes with a traffic cone in front of him, saying nothing, in protest of last month's discussion about a "cone of silence."
Southwest Ranches Town Counsel Keith Poliakoff, who has represented the town along with his father since its inception, still has not answered our question about what he meant when he said, on September 22, that CCA and Homeland Security had "asked" the town council not to discuss
anything related to the detention center.
city town that operates out of a doublewide, with barely enough space to hold a council meeting, wants to host the largest immigrant pen in Florida, it has to be prepared to deal with the pushback from the people who actually live there.
It has to show it can handle a major national-security facility run by a juiced-up federal agency and one of the most powerful corporations in America.
Council members have to make their thought processes clear.
Otherwise, it appears, citizens will assume the worst.
Stefan Kamph is a
New Times staff writer.
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