Whitmer blocks plans for ICE detention center in Ionia

Ionia County
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IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has blocked a plan to sell a former state prison in Ionia to a developer who wants to open an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.

The decision comes weeks after Ionia began considering the proposal from Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America for the former Deerfield Correctional Facility.

A spokesperson for Whitmer said Monday the company behind the proposal couldn’t guarantee the “facility would not be used to detain adults who had been separated from their children or other family members and could not assure certain other conditions without ICE approval.”

“The Governor believes that building more detention facilities won’t solve our immigration crisis, and she also believes that separating families doesn’t reflect our Michigan values. Therefore, the Governor has decided that the sale of state property in Deerfield to ICA will not move forward. As the Governor has said before, it’s time for President Trump and Congress to work together on a bipartisan immigration reform plan that keeps communities safe, protects American jobs, and keeps families together,” said Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown.

Brown said Whitmer’s team came to the decision after a “thoughtful and deliberative review process” that began in January and involved community leaders, lawmakers, civil rights group and ICA. But Republican Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell criticized Whitmer’s decision, calling it “heavy-handed” and politically motivated.

“It’s obvious the governor’s rejection was about appeasing her political base and taking a swipe at President Trump. Like it or not, people that come into this country illegally are going to be detained. Ionia has been a correctional community since the mid-1800’s. They deserve to have been involved in this decision,” Albert stated.

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.

The plans called for razing the old facility and building a $40 million detention center using local contractors.  It was expected to employ between 225 and 250 people, including some in health care, on a federal pay scale.

“I would really like to know what the governor’s plan is to bring 250 well-paying jobs to Ionia and how she plans to clean up the long-vacant former prison property,” Albert added in his statement posted on the GOP House website.

The facility was to hold adult male immigrants detained by ICE who had not been charged with or convicted of criminal offenses, but were instead being held pending administrative hearing on issues like deportation.

Teresa Hendricks of Migrant Legal Aid criticized the proposal, saying her organization doesn’t think it’s an “economically viable or even a humanely viable way to deal with the immigration issues.” She pointed to other alternatives to ensure people return to court, like electronic tethers.

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