Today, county commissioners will be holding their first meeting of 2021. The Commissioners Court is made up of four county commissioners and the county judge. There is a new county commissioner, Iliana Holguin, who will be attending her first meeting. Holguin defeated Vince Perez in last year’s elections. She is also an immigration attorney.
Interestingly, her first meeting will include agenda item no: 15. The item is to discuss and approve an intergovernmental contract between the United States Marshals Service and the County for jailing immigrants being detained by the federal government. The current contract has been in place since 2015.
The National Discussion on Immigration
The outgoing Donald Trump administration made immigration enforcement a priority. The Trump administration increased the detention and deportation of immigrants while making it more difficult for immigrants to immigrate to the country. The incoming Joe Biden administration has promised to reform immigration and possibly be more welcoming to immigrants.
Among the controversies from the Trump administration has been the increased jailing of undocumented immigrants and the use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents (ICE) to detain protestors protesting at federal facilities. The use of unmarked vehicles in July to detain individuals suspected of protesting in Portland have been traced back to ICE agents housed in El Paso.
In June 2018, an “abolish ICE” protest movement gained mainstream traction because of Trump’s family separation policies to deter asylum seekers.
The El Paso Epicenter
The ICE agents based out of El Paso are part of the Border Patrol Tactical Team (BORTAC) team. They are the ICE teams behind the use of unmarked vehicles who wore police gear devoid of insignia while operating in American cities during the protests. The BORTAC was established in El Paso and operate out of the city.
El Paso was also the test site for the family separation program that the Trump administration has been criticized for. The family separation policies enacted by the Trump administration were first tested in El Paso.
On September 30, the El Paso Politics reported how the immigration judges in El Paso are considered the worst judges for asylum seekers in the country.
Against this backdrop, the county commissioners will be discussing renewing the U.S. Marshals contract to jail federal prisoners at county jail facilities today. Most of the federal prisoners kept at the El Paso county jails are immigrants awaiting deportation orders or court hearings.
Holguin’s predecessor, Vince Perez first brought attention to the federal contract in 2017. He argued that the $80 the federal government was paying to house federal prisoners a day was costing El Paso taxpayers about $5 million a year because the county spent $89 per prisoner per day.
In 2018, Perez again attempted to convince the county commissioners to end the contract. Sheriff Richard Wiles argued that ending the contract would cost the county 280 jobs. Wiles also argued that the immigrants would suffer by being jailed further away from legal services and in worse condition.
Perez did not receive the second needed to bring the item up for discussion and action.
ICE Detention Facilities
In 2017, ICE had 211 detention facilities. Of those, 100 facilities (47.4%) were U.S. Marshals Service Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA).  El Paso operates under an IGA. The IGA agreement paid the County $80 per day per federal prisoner it kept at the local jail. Under the proposed agreement to be discussed today, the U.S. Marshals Service is proposing paying the County $101 per federal prisoner.
According to the County’s contract summary, the increase in daily fees “could result in an annual increase in revenues of $4.8 million per fiscal year.” The summary goes on to state that the Marshals contract is the “third largest source of revenue behind property and sales taxes.”
El Paso Is Exempt From Quality Assurance
The U.S. Marshals Service has a Quality Assurance Surveillance Program (QASP). The QASP “outlines detailed requirements for complying with applicable performance standards. The El Paso jail does not have a QASP in place. A 2019 Homeland Security Office of the Inspection General criticized ICE for bypassing the QASP while issuing contracts.
How Will Commissioners Vote?
Carlos Leon (Precinct 1), the former El Paso Police Department Chief, will likely vote to keep the contract with the Marshals Service. David Stout (Precinct 2) has argued that although he supports immigration reform, keeping the immigrants at the county jail is better than sending them to other jails that may not be regulated. Carl Robinson (Precinct 4), like Leon and Stout did not second Perez’ motion in 2018 effectively ending any action by commissioners court to end the contract. Thus, Robinson will likely vote to keep the contract.
The new member of county commissioners, Iliana Holguin, who is an immigration attorney will vote on the agreement for the first time. Holguin has not stated her position on the federal contract but is likely to vote to keep the agreement in place because it ultimately comes down to county jobs. Holguin was also supported by Wiles during the election.
Money Will Dictate The Vote
Ultimately it will be the revenues for the County government that will dictate the final vote. Discussion about the jailing of immigrants and immigration reform will be a footnote, at best, because the discussion will be dominated by Richard Wiles’ plea to keep the jobs.
The Holguin Factor
Iliana Holguin must decide on whether to keep the jobs at the county and the revenues flowing or whether to take the opportunity to advocate for immigrants. Ultimately it is likely that Wile’s support of her campaign will prevail in her vote.
Other Agenda Items
The county commissioners will also accept a report about the CARES Act Grant Funding (No. 10) and possibly act on it. They will also discuss the County’s Covid-19 response. (No. 11)
The county commissioners will also discuss purchasing an election system. Readers should note that recently elected and seated county commissioner, Iliana Holguin is the past chair of the El Paso Democratic Party. The party has a vested interest on the equipment used in elections and Holguin has knowledge of the past election processes with the equipment.
Lack Of Transparency
Governmental entities have a duty to their constituency to keep them informed of the government’s activities. Of importance to the constituency is access to upcoming governmental body meetings. Access to today’s meeting agenda is not readily available on the county’s website. It took several clicks and searches on the website to find the agenda to today’s meeting. Also, the county’s website lacks material necessary to form an opinion on the upcoming discussion items.
For example, the Marshals contract includes a summary but lacks detail, including a copy of the proposed contract.
Access to the upcoming meeting information and details should be readily available from the home page of the website. It is not.
- Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, “ICE Does Not Fully Use Contracting Tools to Hold Detention Facility Contractors Accountable for Failing to Meet Performance Standards,” January 29, 2019; ORG-19-18.