ICE intends to contract with a private company to open an immigration detention center in Evanston. It would confine up to 500 adults suspected of being in the U.S. illegally while they await a court hearing in Salt Lake City. Management & Training Corporation (MTC) will bid for the Evanston facility, partnering with Uinta County.

There are three reasons to question the wisdom of this proposal. First is the inherent conflict of interest whenever for-profit institutions provide social services and circumvent public accountability. Second is the absence of legal representation and immigrant advocacy in this remote location. Third is the trampling of basic human rights, reminiscent of the internment of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain. These reasons contributed to the denial or outright banning of private detention centers in many states, including Utah.

For-profit prisons naturally encourage higher incarceration rates, lower staffing and compromised services. Arizona terminated its state prison contract with MTC, stating the company had "a culture of disorganization, disengagement and disregard" of state policies. In Texas, Willacy County claimed MTC failed to properly "oversee, manage and repair" its correctional facility and "turned a blind eye to the enormous problems that plagued the prison from its inception."

The Evanston facility would displace detainees from family and likely deprive them of qualified lawyers. Sending a mother of American-born children back to Mexico would create a cruel and unusual hardship for the family. But demonstrating this to a court requires legal representation. In a study of 1.2 million deportation cases, detainees were five times more likely to get relief from deportation if they had a lawyer.

Moral objections to the Evanston proposal arise from the belief that privatized incarcerations essentially represent “commerce in souls,” dehumanizing detainees by treating them as units of cost and revenue.

We should not pretend that immigrant detention centers are anything but prisons, even though most immigrants who end up there are not criminals. Given this equivalence, Wyoming law consigns the decision to approve or deny the Evanston facility to our statewide elected officials. The public trust warrants their careful consideration.

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