ICE detainees to be held within minutes of Kansas state line

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“Well, immigration probably needs all the help it can get,” said Dee Bannister, who lives in Newkirk, Oklahoma, where the wave of asylum seekers trying to get into the county has led to changes at the Kay County jail.

Newkirk is the county seat of Kay County, Oklahoma, just 15 minutes from the Kansas state line.

Struggling to pay the bills, the jail’s governing board turned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in January.  That move is paying off at the jail, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is moving in.

In March, the jail board approved an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with DHS to house ICE detainees, immigrants waiting for hearings to determine whether they can stay in the country or must go.

“Whatever they decide, one way or another, it's not up to me, it's up to them,” Bannister said.

The results of that agreement?  Jail administrator Don Jones says, as of this last Monday, his staff is reserving up to 120 beds for adult women detainees.

Some of those beds are already filling up, even as they’re still bringing the facilities up to federal standards.

Despite concerns nationally over the treatment of immigrants in custody along the border, here in Kay County Jones says the federal ICE inspections of his detention center are the toughest he’s seen in 30 years.  They’re now subject to the Performance Based National Detention Standards 2011.  That includes, Jones says, raising the height of toilets in the cells and adding a psychologist and nurse to his staff so they have medical staff working at the jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In addition, DHS will station two ICE detention officers at the jail.

These changes aren’t something most in Kay county are aware of yet.

“I keep pretty close track of that news,” Dee Bannister said about the immigration concerns along the border.  “But here?  No.”

 As word gets around, the response from the community is mostly supportive.

“If they (ICE) can get some help from these guys out here and other facilities, and they can put some more people to work and they can start taking care of the problem instead of ignoring it, that's a good thing,” Bannister said.

Kay County had used contracts with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, charging per prisoner housed, to pay the bills.  But, with fewer inmates coming from those sources, the jail had empty beds and less operating money. 

Jones says that’s why they turned to DHS.  With this new contract, he explained, they’re no longer facing cutting jobs at the jail.  Instead, they’re adding 10 to 15 of them.  Jobs are something almost everyone in Kay County agrees they need more of.

“Every job counts.  So, you know, it's hard to put numbers on something like that.  If they can create some kind of jobs, that counts,” Bannister said.

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