U.S. immigration officials will start using 1,600 federal prison beds to detain immigrants, the majority of them at a facility in Victorville. The move, first reported by Reuters, marks the first wide-scale use of federal prisons to hold immigration detainees.
ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said they need the beds "due to the current surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice's zero-tolerance policy."
Immigrant advocates like Pedro Rios of the San Diego-based American Friends Service Committee questioned whether the move was really needed.
"This is part of a process of criminalizing migrants and migration," said Rios of the San Diego-based American Friends Service Committee. "By moving so many people into a federal prison it is treating people as though they're committing serious crimes. It's certainly not the approach we would like to see in dealing with immigration."
The largest share of those beds, 1,000, will be located at the federal prison in Victorville, California. Also being tapped are facilities in Washington state, Texas, Oregon and Arizona.
Detainees will be held there ahead of hearings in front of immigration judges.
Bennett said the arrangement is to deal with an immediate need.
"The use of BOP facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides," she said in a statement.
John Kostelnik, president of the local prison guard union in Victorville, raised concerns about the impending change in a June 4 post on the FCC Victorville Local website.
"Local 3969 learned hours ago that a process is moving forward in regards to a change to our mission at FCC Victorville, he wrote. "This includes the fact they intend on using one of the institutions for immigration detainees."
Kostelnik said among the issues he was "demanding are addressed immediately" were staffing levels, safety of the guards and whether existing programming at the facility was appropriate for the new detainees.
"The answers I am currently getting from management are 'I don’t know.'" he said. "That is not sufficient."
June 7, 10 p.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced a facility in Lancaster. The prison that will be used is in Victorville.
June 8, 11 a.m.: An earlier version incorrectly gave the last name of the ICE spokeswoman as Barrett. It is Bennett.
This article originally published at 8 p.m. on June 7.