A modern, corporate-run prison in rural Eloy is the last U.S. home for most noncitizens who commit crimes in this country.
That is, unless they sneak back over the border.
Mexican nationals — who make up about 80 percent to 90 percent of the prison’s population — are simply dropped off at the border in Nogales after immigration proceedings, said officials who toured the prison Wednesday.
Those who aren’t Mexicans probably find re-entry more difficult. They are flown to countries all over the world, usually at the expense of U.S. taxpayers, said Phillip Crawford, field office director for the Detention and Removal Operations arm of U.S. Immigration and Cus- toms Enforcement. He did not know the cost, he said.
Despite the possibility that some of the criminals may return, officials said they were proud to show taxpayers that noncitizens who violate U.S. law are being banished.
"That removal means separation from family and friends and the possibility that they may never be able to legalize their status in the United States," Crawford said.
The Eloy Detention Center, run by the Corrections Corporation of America, houses and deports more criminal immigrants than any similar facility in the country. Last month, a record 766 immigrants were deported, and that number may go higher this month. Most of the detainees have been convicted in the United States of drug offenses, burglaries, assaults or sex crimes, officials said.
Four immigration courts run five days a week at the prison. Streamlined legal proceedings, in which many immigrants no longer appear before a judge before getting deported, are the biggest reason for the increase in removals, said Kimberley Shepherd, deputy chief counsel for ICE.
The prison — which opened in 1994 — contains 1,000 beds for ICE detainees, who include illegal immigrants and other noncitizens who have been arrested or convicted of a crime other than merely being in the country illegally. Most of those detainees stay for a few days or weeks, which cuts down on the amount of violence that occurs at other prisons, said Stella Ponce, the prison’s chief security director.
Areas of the prison open to the media on Wednesday were devoid of graffiti, their white walls clean. Prisoners wearing green jumpsuits played cards or chess at picnic tables in two-story pods with a couple dozen small cells. Though the detainees come from all continents except Antarctica, most have been in the country for some time and speak English, meaning few interpreters are needed, said warden Thomas Long.
The prison also houses 500 immigrants who are federal prisoners with less than three years of time to serve, officials said. Those prisoners are segregated from the ICE detainees and wear tan jumpsuits.
The average cost of housing the prisoners is $62 a day, Long said.