IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Ionia is considering a plan that could bring a federal immigration detention center to the site of a former state prison.
The proposal comes with grand promises of economic prosperity, but it is also causing some questions of whether a facility of this type is something the community wants.
The Deerfield Correctional Facility was built in the 1980s, then closed in March 2009 as the prison population declined. For the last decade, it has sat empty and fallen into disrepair.
That could change under a proposal by Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America, a private firm that wants to take advantage of the Trump administration’s desire to increase the number of immigration detention centers.
“It’s a major benefit to the community, especially in this era of closing prisons,” said ICA representative Dennis Muchmore, a Lansing attorney and one-time member of former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration.
The old facility would be razed. The proposed $40 million detention center would be brand new and would use local contractors. It would employ between 225 and 250 people, including some in health care, on a federal pay scale.
The people held there would be under civil detention, meaning they would be immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who have not been charged with or convicted of criminal offenses, but are instead being held pending administrative hearing on issues like deportation.
“There would definitely be no children. Immigration Centers of America … does not do family detention. That’s out completely,” Muchmore said.
The facility could have women someday, if ICE calls for it.
Advocates for immigrants say the proposal is a terrible idea.
“We don’t think that putting people with a civil infraction into jail is an economically viable or even a humanely viable way to deal with the immigration issues,” Teresa Hendricks, executive director at Migrant Legal Aid, said. “There are a lot of alternatives to jailing people to make sure they show up to court.”
One such alternative, she suggested, is releasing people on a tether.
“I say this an affront to the feeling of safety for our community because it makes it seem like we have all these criminals running around that are needing to be detained, when actually that’s the workforce that’s keeping a lot of our economic development going in this county,” Hendricks said.
“No one wants to be detained, but these people are not criminals. They are just in the country illegally,” Muchmore said.
ICE made a presentation to the Ionia City Council Tuesday evening. No residents made statements.
Mayor Dan Balice said that while there are obvious economic benefits to the facility, officials will have to consider whether they want to get into the business of detaining immigration violators.
“I think the reception has been exceptionally rational. The community is used to correctional facilities,” Muchmore said.
Federal government approval has been slowed because of the partial shutdown, but the company says a detention center will be built somewhere.
“Will a detention center be built? The answer is yes. Will it be built in Ionia? No one knows whether it will be built in Ionia or some other community,” Muchmore said.
If all goes smoothly, the center could be operational by the spring of 2020.