City officials defend contract to house ICE detainees at Henderson Detention Center

The Henderson Detention Center’s contract to house detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement generates $9 million to $10 million per year, a moneymaker city officials steadfastly defend as essential to offsetting costs and bolstering coffers.

Such jail contracts underscore a move to expand the use of local detention facilities nationwide as the Trump administration ramps up immigration enforcement. Henderson was well ahead of the shift, and city officials simply see it as good fiscal policy for wanting to maintain the contract with ICE that began in 2011.

“It costs more to run the jail than we bring in,” City Manager Robert Murnane said. “However, losing the contract would have a detrimental impact to the city, because it keeps us from using our general fund.”

But critics view the deal as turning immigration detention into a business and using detainees for income.

“I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be in jails, but when money is a driving factor — in other words, keeping people in that jail cell becomes a financial motivator — then we instinctively create a society where keeping people in jail, instead of rehabilitating them, becomes a priority,” Assemblyman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, said. “It becomes, ‘How do we keep costs down and jails filled?’ ”

In fiscal 2016, the Henderson Detention Center generated $9,027,672 through its contract with ICE. The agency pays $106 per day per detainee to the city.

At peak contract population in 2013, the revenue offset about 70 percent of the costs of jail operations. The city expects that in the current year, the revenue offset will be about 52 percent of the costs of jail operations.

About 90 corrections officers are employed and 540 inmates are housed at the detention center, according to Henderson Police Chief Patrick Moers. The majority of those officers are funded indirectly through those contract dollars.

Moers described the setup bluntly in testimony he gave to the Assembly Committee on Government Affairs on March 17.

“The fact of the matter is we entered this agreement with the desire of bringing federal money into our community,” Moers told lawmakers. “These outside dollars certainly help ease the burden of our general fund.”

ICE in the city

The contract has no expiration date and remains in effect until terminated by either party. As of April 20, 254 of the jail’s detainees were under ICE custody. Contract rates include the feeding, housing and care and medical expenses of the inmates, according to Moers.

Flores said his concerns include more than a dozen phone calls he said he’s received in the past five months alleging that Henderson and other police officers have been working with the agency on immigration crackdowns.

ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said as a standard practice, ICE agents and officers may initially identify themselves as “police” during an encounter. However, their uniforms and jackets display “ICE.”

And while the city does not participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s program 287(G) — which deputizes local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents — there is a full-time ICE employee located within the detention facility.

Last year, detainees from a Utah detention center were transferred to Henderson after that facility ended its contract with ICE. Haley said the transfers have not impacted ICE operations at the facility.

As of Feb. 13, the average length of stay in ICE detention was 36.2 days, according to Haley.

Business of immigration

In 2013, UNLV’s immigration law clinic released a report titled, “The Conditions of Immigration Detention in Nevada,” stating that the Henderson Detention Center failed to comply with federal detention standards and procedures.

Former UNLV law professor Fatma Marouf, who led a group of students in the study, said Henderson shrugged off the report and Henderson’s city attorney, Josh Reid, threatened to file complaints against her and co-author Michael Kagan.

Reid disputed the contention that he threatened the professors; he said he debated the methodology of the study.

The UNLV report aligns with the center’s latest publicly available inspection report. The 2015 Office of Detention Oversight Compliance Inspection showed the center received 23 deficiencies in areas such as access to legal material, environment health and safety and medical care.

While the detention center’s conditions haven’t been reviewed by UNLV since 2013, Kagan said the center has always been difficult for lawyers to work with because of the barriers that arise when trying to access clients.

“Although the detention center is a public entity, it is essentially operating as a private detention center,” Kagan said. “A problem with this is that the detention center ends up being run according to a business contract, rather than according to court jurisdiction or constitutional values.”

He added that at other jails attorneys can meet with their clients by simply displaying their bar card. However, the Henderson Detention Center does not accept that for immigration detainees.

Attorneys must also have a signed G-28 form to visit clients at the detention center, Kagan said.

“This shouldn’t be required unless you represent someone in front of the Department of Homeland Security,” Kagan said. “There are many reasons why someone wants to meet with a lawyer. Other detention centers don’t require such a thing, so I’m not sure why they do.”

“It does raise ethical issues when cities are paid by ICE to hold local jails,” Marouf said. “People are held in the same facility held for criminal punishment, but they’re not experiencing punishment.”

Behind the numbers

The city built its jail expansion in 2010 based on Henderson’s projected population growth.

Roughly 280 to 300 beds are reserved for contract inmates, meaning detainees from other law enforcement agencies that are considered separate jurisdictions, which include the Boulder City Police Department, Paiute Tribe, Clark County Detention Center and U.S. Marshal Service, which includes ICE and the National Park Service.

“The immigration detention system is proven to be dangerous, and deadly,” said Carly Perez, communications manager for the Detention Watch Network. “We are concerned about people in detention everywhere; Henderson Detention Center is no different. ICE has proven it’s incapable of caring for people in their custody.”

Contact Sandy Lopez at or 702-383-4686. Follow @JournalismSandy on Twitter.

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