The Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a privately-owned Utah contractor that manages prisons and Job Corps centers, has submitted a proposal to build an immigration detention center just outside of Evanston, Wyoming. The proposed site is more than an hour from the nearest immigration court and there are no immigration attorneys nearby.
Without easy access to proper representation, if a center is built in Evanston, some say detainees won’t even get a chance to have their case heard. “Because immigration law is so complicated…and because putting people into detention makes it that much harder to procure representation…people who might have viable claims are getting deported without the benefit of having had a full day in court,” said Suzan Pritchett, a UW law professor focused on immigration and the justice system. “It takes experienced and dedicated immigration attorneys and advocates to be able to get inside an immigration detention center, to be able to screen for people who might have valid claims [for asylum or hardship]. Those are pretty diffuse, complicated legal concepts that someone sitting in a detention center isn’t necessarily going to be able to understand.”
There are a few qualified immigration attorneys who practice in the state, although far from the proposed site. Making the long haul to Evanston, well over 150 miles roundtrip, is likely to increase legal costs for detainees and many won’t be able to afford it. And, even with an attorney, it’s very difficult to stop a deportation once someone is in custody, according to Pritchett. “Being in detention means your case goes much, much quicker. It’s a “pressure-cooker situation” even for the most experienced attorneys, she said. “A lot of attorneys just simply don’t have the capacity to go to a detention center and be in a position to rapidly respond in a way that a detained case requires one to do.”
The proposed rural location doesn’t immediately seem like a great choice for a center. Officials, however, there believe the private jail will bring in jobs and tax dollars, and both the county commission and the city council passed resolutions in favor of the facility this past summer.
MTC itself also has a sketchy history. It’s currently being sued for discriminating against tribal members at its Wyoming Job Corps center, and at a New Mexico immigration facility the business operates, the Department of Homeland Security recently found that the structure didn’t meet numerous federal standards including those regarding the misuse of solitary confinement and unsanitary conditions in the facility’s bathrooms. “Someone could go days or weeks even without having access to the outdoors,” Melissa Lopez, a Texas immigration lawyer said of the New Mexico facility solitary confinement procedures.
A spokesperson for MTC, Issa Arnita, said detainees in the Evanston center would have full access to attorneys as needed. MTC’s other facilities have worked with immigration advocacy groups, he said. “While it’s too premature to talk specifics about the proposed site in Evanston, ICE typically provides for a courtroom at the facility or video conferencing for various legal hearings.”