Tulsa County Commissioners Vote To End ICE Detention Contract; Detainees Will Still Be Handed Over

Jun 23, 2020

The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners voted 3-0 on Monday to end a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house federal immigration detainees in a special unit at the Tulsa County Jail.

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office (TCSO) said that the contract, under which they receive $69 per day for each federal inmate detained, was not making fiscal sense recently, due to a steady decline in inmates that the county says ICE has never explained.

"The contract was for up to 200 [inmates], but gradually the number has come down, where lately the average number of inmates in that pod was 12," said Casey Roebuck, a TCSO spokesperson. "That just doesnt financially justify staffing an entire pod."

Roebuck said guards currently assigned to the immigration detainees will be absorbed into other roles at the jail, where she said they're "greatly needed."

Roebuck said that the end of the contract is completely related to finances, and not at all to some calls by activists in cities across the country for local governments to divest from or otherwise cut ties with ICE.

"This is not that at all," Roebuck said. "This is about an obligation to the taxpayers to make the best use of the money that they have."

"A while back, that contract would support itself," Roebuck said, "but now that the numbers have fallen to what they are, it's just not financially responsible to pay a staff of detention officers to keep one pod open for ICE inmates when the numbers just aren't there."

Roebuck says TCSO will continue to abide by the terms of an agreement with ICE known as 287(g), in which the sheriff's office agrees to notify the federal government and turn over any inmates booked into the county jail who are suspected of having immigration violations. 

County Commissioner Karen Keith said in a phone interview on Monday that the housing contract terminated on Monday "was getting very cumbersome to continue to stand it up."

"For me personally, I'm glad to see that this one is going away," Keith said. In May, Keith was the lone vote on the Board of County Commissioners to vote against continuing participation in 287(g).