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Mayors seek to have prison certified to detain illegals

Published August 31. 2012 05:02PM

A newly formed association of mayors want to help get the Carbon County Correctional Facility certified to detain illegal immigrants found in the area.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Nesquehoning Mayor Tony Walck and Beaver Meadows Mayor Bill Hines, approached the board about problems municipalities are having because of the lack of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) certified prison. Currently, the Carbon County prison is not allowed to hold illegal immigrants until ICE agents can pick up the person.

Walck said he and Hines are part of the newly formed Association of Mayors of the Boroughs of Carbon County.

"We have a concern," Walck said. "Please do whatever is necessary to recertify the prison so that we can detain the illegals because right now it puts a burden on the taxpayers of Carbon County, as well as small municipalities throughout Carbon County because their police departments have to try and detain them (illegals) or have to take them to Scranton or the Philadelphia area. It's a safety issue for our officers and for our residents."

He added that the commissioners have the full support of the mayors' association and they will do whatever needs to be done to help get the prison certified.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, applauded the mayors for forming an association and for taking an interest in this.

"I fully support you," he told Walck. "I think it's time we make those contacts again. This is a federal issue."

Walck said that he met with U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta who has in the past as Hazleton mayor taken a tough stance against illegal immigration and said Barletta is on board.

"He was very positive on trying to see what he could do in Washington to get this issue resolved," Walck said, adding that the problem isn't isolated to one area. "It's affecting everyone, every mayor, every police department and it has to be addressed."

He said that the county was certified to hold illegal immigrants when the Immigration and Naturalization Service was in charge, but was decertified when ICE took over.

Commissioner William O'Gurek said that the reason for the county being decertified was because, "(ICE) was comfortable with the number of certified facilities they had. They streamlined their facilities by eliminating some."

Walck responded, "I don't think ICE realizes the burden that they're putting on the small towns. It's not getting any easier. The funds are getting cut all over the place. It's tough enough to run a police department in a small town and now having to run illegals to Philadelphia or Scranton, it's not acceptable and someone has to do something."

Nothstein said that the county must get the support of neighboring counties before they can go to the federal level because the more support Carbon has, the better the chances it may have.

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard said that the board will work on trying to get this issue resolved.

Getting the county prison recertified as an approved ICE facility has been in the works since 2010, when the issue arose during the monthly meeting of the county prison board. At that meeting the members discussed an email they received from ICE, stating that they were not allowed to accept detainees and hold them for transport.

Since then, Walck has tried to help the county by getting support of other lawmakers.

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