JEROME - A potential contract between Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the Jerome County Sheriff's Office is creating a lot of discussion in the small community.
The deal would set aside a number of county jail beds just for the agency.
A Pew Research Center study from 2014 found 45,000 illegal immigrants living in Idaho, so plenty of people are watching this proposal closely.
The new Jerome County Jail opened in April of 2016 and has 135 beds.
County Commissioner Charles Howell says on average, only 80 of those beds are filled per day.
“The sheriff brought to us some information from ICE that they wanted to rent 50 beds for $75 per day, whether they use the beds or not, that was the first proposal and that would be $1.34 million per year, and so that is where the conversation started,” said Howell.
And that is also where the conversation stopped, at least between ICE and Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall, who was not available to speak with us on Thursday.
“He has been trying to brief us but he doesn’t have any more information either," said Howell. "He wanted to know if we wanted to pursue this with all the public uproar about it, he wanted to know if we should still pursue it, and the board said yes, because we don’t know what’s in the contract, and we want to know what they are going to present."
The news of a potential contract quickly spread through town.
“Everyone is talking about it," said Howell. "That is the hot topic in Jerome County and Magic Valley."
An opportunity for Jerome residents to weigh-in on the contract was held in the courthouse where Howell says 600 people showed up.
“Well the down side according to the Idaho Dairy Association is that it will affect the workers," he said. "The workers will feel paranoid with ICE here for reasons other than to house prisoners. Will they bring them in and drop them off or will they be walking down streets and checking IDs and things like that?”
“They are going to do more than just be here, they are going to scare people and we don’t want the people to be scared,” said Jerome resident Maria Bucklew.
“Every time ICE comes into town here even just to transport people from the local jail or pick them up to go to Salt Lake City, if an officer comes into a restaurant like this, people won’t show up for like two weeks afterwards,” said Benjamin Reed, another Jerome resident.
According to Howell, others see the contract differently.
“Obviously the pro is $1.34 million a year, so that’s pretty hard to turn down for your community budget and trying to keep the taxes lower for your public citizens,” he said.
We reached out to the regional ICE agency about the contract but did not hear back.
“We're kind of done discussing it until we see the contract in hand,” said Howell.
© 2017 KTVB-TV