Not a single detainee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the CNMI is being kept at the Department of Corrections and neither party has initiated talks to negotiate a new deal to house ICE detainees at the Susupe prison. At present, one ICE detainee from Saipan is in Guam because of the lack of an agreement with DOC.
California-based ICE public affairs officer/spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said ICE is currently using detention facilities in Guam and Hawaii and “the CNMI has not expressed interest in negotiating a new IGSA at this time.”
IGSA stands for Inter-Governmental Service Agreement.
“Currently, there is only one detainee from Saipan detained in Guam,” Haley told Saipan Tribune.
CNMI Corrections Commissioner Ray Mafnas said ICE is welcome to send its detainees to DOC “through the U.S. Marshal Service.”
“And they can come down there if they want to see anyone, state or federal inmate, to meet with them, interview them, but they have to go through the process. We call it the visitor registration application or form. They just need to complete that and we schedule a meeting with them,” Mafnas said in an interview.
ICE is not saying whether it will soon piggyback on the U.S. Marshal Service’s agreement with DOC, which Mafnas is amenable to.
“ICE considers all available options for its short and long-term detention needs,” Haley said.
Mafnas said DOC and the U.S. Marshal Service have “a very healthy and strong relationship and we continue to serve the needs of the federal court and the U.S. Marshal.”
He also said there has not been any ICE detainee since the termination of the agreement in June.
Early last year, ICE gradually transferred 13 of its 20 CNMI detainees to Guam, Hawaii, and Los Angeles in California while the CNMI worked on ICE’s concerns about the inadequacy of healthcare services for immigration detainees at the Susupe prison.
In February this year, DOC issued a 120-day notice to terminate—effective June 2013—the IGSA between the two entities because ICE had been placing only up to two detainees at DOC, which has reserved space for up to 25 ICE detainees under the latest deal.
Two months after what Mafnas called an “automatic” termination of the agreement, neither party wants to initiate talks to negotiate a new IGSA.
Haley reiterated that ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare and safety of all those in its custody.
“Facilities under contract to house ICE detainees must conform to the agency’s rigorous detention standards and undergo regular top-to-bottom inspections,” Haley said.
Mafnas insist that DOC facilities are up to standards.
“I can assure the community that the minimum safety and security standards will be maintained and so as other obligations that the Department of Corrections has,” he said.
Haley said without any expressed by the CNMI’s DOC to renegotiate an IGSA, “further inspection by ICE is not required.”
Since November 2009, the federal government through DHS and its component agencies such as ICE and Customs and Border Protection has been controlling CNMI immigration.
The Office of the Attorney General was earlier hoping that once ICE’s concerns are addressed by the CNMI, the number of ICE detainees at the Susupe facility could go back to either the previous level or more, including up to 50.
Housing 50 federal inmates at the Susupe prison could translate to $1.6 million revenue for the CNMI based on an $89 rate per inmate per day.
But Mafnas said DOC has also been seriously considering housing Guam inmates at the Susupe facility for a fee.
Meanwhile, Mafnas said he welcomes Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for DOC.
The fiscal year 2013 budget law gave DOC $1.506 million. Inos’ proposed budget for DOC in 2014 is $2.215 million. As of yesterday, there’s no telling whether the Legislature will keep this intact when it sends the budget to the governor.
“I respect what the administration gives or authorizes,” Mafnas said.
Mafnas said studies that are over 10 years old, as well as current staffing level analysis and requirements, show that the ideal number of personnel at DOC is 126, including the commissioner. The current staffing level is way below that.