CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners held a special meeting Wednesday to consider reaffirming agreements with the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement and the GEO Group to reopen the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center as an ICE detainment facility.
On Sept. 28, the commissioners approved both agreements, but concerns were raised and a lawsuit filed regarding a possible violation of the Sunshine Act in regards to advertising the purpose of the meeting and giving opportunity for the public to comment.
County Solicitor Heather Bozovich explained during the meeting and again afterwards when questioned by members of the media that a motion for a special and preliminary injunction was filed with the court due to a possible violation of the act when the county allegedly failed to publish the agenda 24 hours prior to the meeting, which is a new requirement of the law.
Bozovich said the question was whether the commissioners had intentionally failed to give adequate notice of the agenda items, which were published 19 hours prior to the meeting.
She said the court has the discretion to determine if the oversight was a blatant violation and, if so, to invalidate the meeting. The motion was to be considered at 11 a.m., but it was withdrawn with the scheduling of the 2 p.m. meeting.
She noted that every board of commissioners’ meeting has time allotted for public comment.
The meeting room was filled to capacity with members of the media, local residents and representatives of state immigration advocacy groups in attendance.
Many of those who spoke during the public comment period expressed concern that the residents of Clearfield and Centre counties, which are located in close proximity to the correctional facility, didn’t have adequate time to consider the proposal to reopen MVCC and ask questions or express concerns.
There were those who said that there was no warning that this was being considered; however, Commissioner David Glass pointed out during the meeting that articles appeared in the media as early as August.
The matter was also raised and then tabled at the Sept. 14 meeting before the commissioners voted on Sept. 28, Glass said.
Concerns were also raised about what will happen when the detainees are released and where they will go.
Representatives of immigration advocacy organizations questioned the human rights records of other GEO Group facilities, noting long histories of documented violations, open lawsuits against the company and the harmful physical and psychological impact on detainees while their cases make their way through the judicial system.
One woman presented a petition to the commissioners signed by 2,000 people opposing the opening of the ICE facility.
Still others, including current and former employees and community members, spoke about how MVCC has benefited the community since first opening, with family-sustaining jobs, community support and involvement and having the best record of all the facilities.
Former and current employees noted that the facility was subjected to numerous rigorous audits over the years regarding the health and well-being of inmates.
Others noted that when the facility closed in January, it affected not only the nearly 300 people employed there, but also other local businesses.
After listening to everyone who wanted to comment, the commissioners each gave their own comments on the matter.
Commissioner Chairman John Sobel said his mind has not changed since Sept. 28 and that there are different angles to be considered. He said society has a right to enforce order and if you enter a society illegally the society has to respond, and that people have due process of law.
He understands the concerns about inhumane treatment but that the commissioners did not receive anything specific in documentation e-mailed to them.
Glass said that the situation is a mixed bag and he has concerns with how immigration is handled in the country. “We’re not ICE, we don’t set policy,” he noted, concluding that he believes the positives outweigh the negatives in this situation.
Commissioner Tony Scotto noted that he is the son of immigrants from Italy who became citizens through established processes, but he understands the desire to come to the country and that many come because they are seeking asylum. He said he believes the facility is an opportunity to help and will also benefit the community.
The commissioners then voted to reaffirm both motions from the Sept. 28 meeting.
The first motion was to reaffirm the agreement with ICE for Clearfield County to operate a federal immigration detention center.
The second motion was to reaffirm the Global Agreement with GEO to reopen the former Decatur Township private prison facility and operate the same as a federal immigration center for Clearfield County pursuant to their agreement with ICE.
Commissioners took time after the meeting to talk with one of the immigration representatives and to request information from her and explain more thoroughly their positions.
Those with questions or concerns are welcome to call and make an appointment to talk with the commissioners or they can also e-mail the commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org.