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If ICE has issues with Alamance County’s jail, it hasn’t said anything about it – to local officials – at least not yet

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The higher ups at local sheriff’s department are scratching their heads over a sudden shift at the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the federal agency’s need for detention space in Alamance County’s jail.

Last week, officials at ICE’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., announced that they would reduce their reliance on Alamance County’s jail and two others in Louisiana and Florida where they currently house immigration detainees. ICE also declared that it would completely abandon a fourth site in Gadsden, Alabama that has long served as another one of its holding facilities.

In an official news release on Friday, ICE attributed a number of factors to its apparent change of heart about the accommodations in Alamance County. The agency alluded specifically to the jail’s “limited operational use” as well as “concerns about conditions, including a lack of outdoor recreation” for inmates.

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“The Alamance County Detention Facility, which is currently used for long-term detention, will only be used for short periods of custody (under 72 hours) if it meets applicable standards. This change is due to limited operational use and concerns about conditions, including a lack of outdoor recreation.” – ICE press release, March 25, 2022

The agency went on to note that, in lieu of current practice of “long-term detention,” it would continue to house detainees in Alamance County only for “short periods” of no more than 72 hours, as long as the jail “meets applicable standards.”

This decision by ICE’s top brass has since been reported in news outlets ranging from The New York Times on down. In the meantime, however, it appears that no one at ICE’s home office ever bothered to send the proverbial memo to the federal agency’s correspondents in Alamance County.

In a brief conversation on Monday, Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson said that he has yet to hear anything directly from ICE about a proposed change in the federal agency’s policy regarding its use of the jail.

“I’m still waiting to hear from them,” the sheriff said that afternoon as he rushed off to take part in an active shooter drill at an area elementary school.

Likewise, Cliff Parker, the sheriff’s chief deputy, insisted that he hasn’t gotten any inkling of what’s going on from his own counterparts at the federal agency.

“There’s nothing official from ICE,” Parker confirmed in an interview, “and we’ve met all the requirements and standards in our contract with ICE.”

Since 2019, Alamance County has had a standing agreement with ICE that enables the federal agency to reserve 50 beds in the county’s detention center to hold detainees who are awaiting deportation proceedings or hearings. This annual agreement, which was renewed as recently as February of this year, obligates ICE pay a fixed charge for each of these 50 spaces regardless of how many of them it actually uses. The agreement also allows ICE to lease additional beds at the same per diem rate as long the beds are available.

Under the current terms of this deal, the county expects to take in at least $1,012,500 through its relationship with ICE – given the contract’s guaranteed minimum of 50 beds. In return, the county must provide the federal agency’s inmates with accommodations, meals, apparel, and health care services that meet certain criteria.

Parker concedes that the recent news coverage of ICE’s announcement was the first he heard about any dissatisfaction on the part of the federal authorities with this arrangement.

“Our detention center meets federal and state guidelines,” he added, “and if there’s an issue with outdoor recreation, that’s an issue between Ice and our legal [department].”

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