Cuccinelli Cut Red Tape When ICE Facility Was On The Rocks

Published 3:42 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FARMVILLE – Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli played a vital role in helping the immigration detention facility in Farmville clear federal regulatory hurdles and open its doors.

“He went to the head of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and got everything off dead center,” Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates told The Herald.

“They kept changing the regulations as we would go along. We would get everything in compliance and then they'd add some new restrictions. (ICE) kept doing that and doing that. You had somebody who'd invested $12 million in a project and (the investors) didn't have any money coming in.”

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The attorney general, himself, raised the issue during his remarks to the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce last week, adding that he believes the Immigration Centers of America facility will become an East Coast hub for ICE and its immigration detention needs.

ICE was created 10 years ago and describes itself as “the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) “manages and oversees the nation's civil immigration detention system,” its website states.

The ICA-Farmville facility is the first privately operated illegal immigrant detention facility in the commonwealth

Spates explained that Cuccinelli intervened after being contacted by the attorney representing the immigration detention facility project.

The attorney general told chamber members, “When your ICE facility here was struggling to get residents, inmates and couldn't get adequate business from ICE-their chain was getting yanked here. They kept moving the goalposts at ICE to bring more folks, medical excuses, and by that I mean regulatory medical excuses; I don't mean medicine-I stepped in because of the relationship we'd already established with the ICE director, who lives in Virginia, John Morton.”

Morton was appointed as director of ICE by President Obama in 2009, with a unanimous vote by the United States Senate. Morton had spent the previous 15 years in the Justice Department.

Cuccinelli was able to parlay that working relationship with ICE's top official into effective intervention that was crucial to the 240-employee facility opening.

Spates is certain Cuccinelli's involvement was pivotal.

“I think there's no question about it. It's what turned it around,” the town manager said. “He just got a hold of the right person. And what happened was, basically what they did, we built it according to the ICE guidelines and what they wanted, and it was 800 beds, and they cut it back down to, they wanted more space (for detainees) after everything was set up and cut it back to 500 and some. That's what they kept doing, back and forth.”

Enter Cuccinelli, who was able to deal directly with Morton.

“Knowing the director that way and having worked together on a professional basis,” the Republican candidate for governor said, “I could take that concern out of this community to him. And we got it fixed. And that facility is now operating at a healthy pace and hopefully one day it will see expansion that will be helpful to this community and that business will continue to thrive. That's on a good path. That's on a good path and I was happy to help in that regard. We always want to be able help you all do your work.”

Spates said he wasn't sure the project would have been in jeopardy without Cuccinelli but there would have been negative consequences, he believes.

“I really think it would have affected the developers and it could have eventually resulted in the project being downsized quite a bit,” Spates told The Herald. “I don't think it would have anywhere near the number of employees we have right now.”

Spates publicly thanked Cuccinelli during last week's chamber meeting, underscoring the importance of the attorney general reaching out to the head of ICE.

“I needed to say something because he did go to bat for us on that,” Spates explained, “and I think it was all about his connection with the people from ICE. He didn't do anything that somebody else couldn't have done, he just knew the right contacts to get the thing off dead center.”

Cuccinelli responded brightly to Spates' words of thanks and praise, replying, “I was glad to do it. I was sorry we had to do it. That facility…is one of those win-wins for taxpayers. We, as Americans, need that facility, somewhere, and hopefully, with as good as it's running here and as cost-effective as it is, you're going to see this become a central Atlantic hub here for this kind of work for ICE because they're doing this job better and more cheaply than other facilities that ICE has. That is something you ought to be proud of to have here.

“And it really is just a bonus for America,” the attorney general continued, “to have that kind of public-private partnership working as well as it is. So I was happy to get in there and help out with that, and really just overcome what were very unreasonable regulatory type burdens that were slowing down that facility getting going, and now it is, now it's coming along.”

Spates said the facility generates close to $1.8 to $1.9 million a month into the local economy.

“And that's federal money that's not generated here, it's generated from outside…it turns over, what, seven times (in local economy),” the town manager enthused.

And there are also direct payments to the Town's treasury.

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year the Town has received an approximate average of $15,000 a month from the facility in per diem inmate fees from ICA-Farmville, one dollar per detainee per day.

The ICE Farmville facility houses adult males, adult female, non-criminal detainees, according to its website.

“As contracted by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) with the city of Farmville and operated by ICA, the facility and its staff and contractors are committed,” the ICA-Farmville website states, “to provide a secure environment meeting the health and safety needs of nonviolent illegal aliens detained while being processed through immigration court.”