Companies propose immigration detention centers in Midwest

Published 11:52 am Sunday, May 13, 2018

Companies and local governments have proposed building new immigration detention centers in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, responding to a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials stepping up arrests in the center of the country.

The proposals, most by for-profit corrections contractors, were submitted to ICE after it put out a request in October for detention sites near Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City and St. Paul, Minnesota. ICE disclosed the proposals in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Immigrant Justice Center, which provided the information to The Associated Press.

The proposals, all preliminary, include one to build a 640-bed detention center in Pine Island, Minnesota, not far from Rochester, submitted by Management & Training Corp. and another by GEO Group for an 800-bed facility in rural Newton County, Indiana, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of Chicago.

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CoreCivic Inc. proposed reopening the vacant Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minnesota, to supply ICE with up to 600 beds, and expanding a detention center in Pahrump, Nevada, to add space for 604 immigrant detainees.

ICE pays private companies to hold about two-thirds of those detained for being in the country illegally, with the largest part of that business contracted to CoreCivic and GEO.

In addition to the proposals by companies, local governments have submitted plans. Calhoun County, Michigan, proposed building a dedicated immigrant detention facility with up to 300 beds at the county jail, in addition to 250 beds already under contract to ICE. Sherburne County, Minnesota, offered space for 300 detainees in its jail, with new construction possible to hold 200 others. Kankakee County, Illinois, already under contract to house 105 detainees, offered space for nearly 100 more and said it could complete construction of an annex to house 300 others.

Some of the proposals submitted to ICE include several that have already gained attention. They include a CoreCivic proposal to build a detention center in Elkhart County, Indiana, that was withdrawn earlier this year in the face of local opposition, and proposals by MTC for facilities in Evanston, Wyoming, and Hopkins Park, Illinois.

It is not clear if or when ICE will move forward with contracts for additional detention centers. Agency officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday from the AP.

With President Donald Trump’s administration pledging to go after people in the country illegally, ICE has increased arrests in the interior of the country by 40 percent during the first part of 2017. To keep pace, the agency published a notice last fall seeking “multiple possible detention sites” within 180 miles (290 kilometers) of the four cities. But Congress declined to approve a funding request this year to expand capacity from about 40,000 immigrants to more than 51,000.

“They’ve put out these requests for information and we’ve proposed different sites, and we’re waiting to hear,” said Issa Arnita, spokesman for MTC, which is based in Centerville, Utah. The company has identified potential sites for new immigration detention centers in Minnesota, Illinois and Wyoming, as well as in Michigan, but considers the details proprietary, Arnita said.

A CoreCivic spokesman, Steven Owen, said in an email that his company’s proposals are part of ongoing work with ICE and other government customers to “assess their options to address current or future needs.” The Tennessee-based company will not provide details for competitive reasons, he said.

An executive at Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO declined to comment, referring questions to ICE.

Some communities have welcomed jobs and taxes from new detention centers. But CoreCivic’s decision to withdraw its proposal in Indiana is among several in the region that have drawn opposition in recent years.

Officials in some of the locations identified as possible sites for detention centers said they had very limited knowledge of the proposals or their status.

The list provided by ICE included a site in Oronoco, Minnesota, but local officials said it is, in fact, in the nearby city of Pine Island. Devin Swanberg, the executive director of the Pine Island Economic Development Authority, said that a corrections company and a California real estate development firm that owns a local site spanning more than 1,200 acres spoke with local officials five or six months ago about the possibility of a detention center that would create 50 to 75 jobs. But they’ve heard little since.