When feds sought to shutter immigration jail, politics intervened

August 24, 2012

GADSDEN, Ala. -- The serpentine Coosa River once brought people and goods aplenty to this pretty Southern town, known first for its riverboats and later for its rubber and steel plants. 

But those times are mostly a memory. The city has struggled since the 1980s. Plants shuttered, and industry moved abroad. Many jobs shifted into the service sector. 

Then, in the late 1990s, a tide of immigrants flowed into Gadsden, delivering an unlikely economic boost. The essential revenue they generated came not from their work in fields, factories or hotels, however, but from their presence in the county’s jail cells.

Ever since, the Etowah County Detention Center has typically held hundreds of immigrant detainees, incarcerated at the behest of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, as they either await deportation or fight it.

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