After Pennsylvania’s York County prison dissolved its contract with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in August, it was announced that a new immigration detention center will be opened in Clearfield County. The Clearfield County Board of Commissioners approved and signed a five-year contract with ICE and the GEO Group.
Clearfield County Immigration Detention Center
The prison, which operates for-profit, will convert the former Clearfield County Prison facility into a detention center to process individuals in violation of federal immigration laws. The prison can house roughly 1,900 immigrant detainees, but due to COVID-19 safety requirements, no more than 800 members will be held. “The beds will hold adults. There will not be any children. Primarily males, with some room for females,” said John Sibel, a Clearfield County Commissioner.
Training for prison employees is due to start soon, and the facility is expected to be in full operation within the next two months. Upgrades to the prison’s fencing and other areas will be underway soon.
GEO Group Detention Center and Clearfield County
GEO Group, a private company that ran the former Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, also owns the facility in Philipsburg. The correctional center, a federal prison, was closed in March this year. The closure impacted 300 employees, causing job loss in an already economically disadvantaged area.
Unlike York County, where the facility housed both immigrant detainees and other incarcerated people, the converted facility will house only immigrant detainees. Sibel said, “[t]he signing of the contract guarantees now that property tax revenues will continue to come to Clearfield County, Decatur Township, and the Philipsburg-Osceola School District.”
Safety Concerns for Local Residents
Residents of Clearfield County raised safety concerns over the new facility. However, Sibel reassured them that the GEO Group, which is responsible for running the facility, is in the process of upgrading the perimeter, and will transport immigrants who are released to the locations where they want to return.
“A lot of the folks that will be there, that will go through the processing center, will be there because they violate federal immigration laws, but they won’t necessarily have committed a criminal act… that would have caused them to be in the old prison,” Sibel said.
ICE’s Priorities Guidelines to Be Enforced
The Action field office director Brian McShane said that individuals held in the facility will fall under ICE’s enforcement priorities guidelines. Those priorities are focused on national security, border security, and public safety. “They will have their due process in immigration court if that’s what the law calls for while we go through the process to attempt to effectuate their removal,” he added.