A temporary contract will keep the federal immigration detention center in Tacoma open while negotiations for a longer-term contract take longer than expected.
The short-term pact was signed Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and The GEO Group Inc., which has owned and run the Northwest Detention Center on the Tideflats since 2005.
The center has 1,575 beds for people whose immigration status is being challenged by the government.
ICE officials put the contract up for bid in December, knowing the current agreement was set to expire, and planned to award a new one to take effect by April 1.
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The deadline came and went as negotiations continued, and ICE extended the current contract until April 23.
With no more extensions allowed in the contract and negotiations still underway three weeks later, GEO and ICE agreed to the temporary contract, which goes through May 31.
“The terms are the same (as the last contract),” local ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz said of the temporary agreement. “But both parties have to agree on the extension, versus before, the government could just extend the contract.”
The long-term contract is expected to be for 10 years, and renewed annually during that time, according to the government’s request for proposal.
GEO is expected to win it. Giving the contract to another company would require moving hundreds of detainees to a different contractor- owned/contractor-operated facility.
Few private prison corporations can meet the government’s requirements for detention services.
“It seems almost like a given that GEO will be the entity picked,” Jorge Baron, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle, told The News Tribune last month.
He said he’d prefer the facility didn’t exist at all, or at least that it wasn’t run by private business.
ICE will pay for at least 800 detainees daily, according to the request for proposals. It was unclear how much the government would pay per detainee.
In the 2009 contract, GEO was guaranteed 1,181 detainees daily, and $100.65 a day for each. The government agreed to pay $62.52 per day for each detainee above the minimum.
What that amounted to annually for the company isn’t clear. The center’s population changes regularly. The average daily population in January was 818. In January 2014, it was 1,446.
It’s not clear why the negotiations for a new agreement are dragging on.
“All I can say is that the negotiations are ongoing, and hopefully it will be done within the next month,” Munoz said. “The negotiations themselves are confidential.”
He said he couldn’t confirm how many or which companies were being considered.
U.S. Rep Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said in a letter this week to ICE director Sarah Saldaña that he was concerned about the negotiation practices.
“I urge ICE to promote increased transparency, explicit standards in detainee treatment and facility maintenance, and increased reliance on humane and fair alternatives to detention in all future contract negotiations,” Smith wrote.
Smith’s office said he plans to introduce a bill similar to one that failed last year that aims to improve conditions and oversight at the detention facility.
Asked about the transparency of the negotiations, ICE said confidentiality during negotiations is standard.
“The contract process is governed by federal acquisition regulations and federal law,” Munoz said. “Those are the procedures that are being used right now for selecting the next contractor to operate the Northwest Detention Center.”