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PolitiFact weighs in on Broward prison spat

Southwest Ranches is a tiny wealthy suburban enclave in western Broward County where some residents still ride horses, and the town once fought a street light proposal because residents didn't want the lights to interfere with their view of the stars.

Now the rural-suburban oasis has become embroiled in controversy because of a longtime plan to build a jail. The town's plan to have a jail on the site had been publicly discussed for many years. But an uproar erupted in 2011, when U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement announced that it had tentatively selected the Southwest Ranches site for an immigration detention facility. The Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition, a pro-immigration group that opposes the jail, robo-called nearby residents.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who represents the area, wrote a letter of support for the project in April 2011, along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. But as the controversy grew, Wasserman Schultz later wrote a letter to the town's mayor urging the town to hold a meeting with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), and that meeting occurred Nov. 5.

Hundreds of residents gathered at a library to voice their concern. The Miami Herald described the meeting as a circus-like atmosphere -- replete with plenty of roving sheriff's deputies and a "First Amendment" area. The angry crowd was clearly against the project, and Mayor Frank Ortis, from neighboring Pembroke Pines, drew the biggest applause, the Miami Herald wrote.

Watch Ortis on the city's video of the meeting starting around minute 76:

"Let me just say that the longer I sit at this meeting, the angrier I'm getting," Ortis said. "Many of you who have contacted our office I've told you this is a Southwest Ranches issue. We don't have a vote in it. Let me just finish. We don't have a vote in it. This is what happens when you don't go to the people first." (The Herald's article also included most of that quote.)

Ortis' passionate speech prompted someone at the meeting to suggest "Frank Ortis for governor."

Ortis, first elected as a commissioner in 1996 and mayor in 2004, ingratiated himself with the angry opponents of the prison. But was he correct to state that Pembroke Pines doesn't have a vote in the project? Read PolitiFact's take on his claim.

 

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