A question of detention versus sanctuary
The city of New Richmond has scheduled a community conversation for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23 at WITC to publicly discuss an application by Immigration Centers of America (ICA) to rezone20-plus acres of private property west of the St. Croix Correctional Center to build a detention facility to house undocummented immigrants detained on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The facility would be approximately 166,000 square feet with 500 beds and is anticipated to employ 200 individuals.
Ahead of the April 23 meeting, the city has made ICA's text amendment, concept plan and certified survey map applications available for review at ICA Applications.
ICA, is a privately owned corporation based in Virginia. It operates at least one other detention facility in Farmville, Va. The Farmville facility was built in 2010 for $21 million, can hold up to 642 people and employs 230 people.
According to their website, ICA is solely focused on providing exceptional detention and transportation services for the United States Department of Homeland Security. Founded in 2008, ICA has established itself as one of the leading providers of civil immigration detention services in the nation. "With a proven track record, ICA has been recognized as providing DHS with unmatched facilities that adhere to the highest standards of medical care, safety and recreation," the site states.
It can be difficult to comprehend the specifics of President Donald Trump's immigration policy from day-to-day, but the general consensus is that it is moving in a more restrictive direction. So far the president has attempted a variety of approaches including impeding entry into the U.S. with a wall, legally narrowing the path to asylum and using the separation of children from their parents as a deterrent. He has also proposed a suspension of due process for deportees and revoked the citizenship of legal immigrants. He has also doubled down on enforcement implementing a letter-of-the-law, zero tolerance mandate for law enforcement and threatening to withhold federal funding from cities that exercise a sanctuary approach to immigration. Add all of this to the $4.2 billion requested by the administration in its 2019 budget to increase detention capacity for ICE from 40,000 to 52,000, and it appears to be signaling a boon in the eyes of the private prison industry.
What to know
Statistics are abundant. A lot of folks have investigated immigration in an effort to separate fact from fiction.
• NBC News reported ICE is authorized to hold up to 40,000 undocumented immigrants on any given day. Those detainees are housed in a mix of federal prisons, privately-operated facilities and local jails. The American Immigration Council found that ICE used more than 630 sites scattered throughout the U.S. On Feb. 6, 2019, the number of detainees being held was 49,057. 20,800 of those detainees were housed in facilities considered to be on the interior of the U.S.
• According to the American Immigration Council, about 67% of all detainees were confined at least once in privately operated facilities in 2015 and many adults were transferred between facilities during their detention, leading to confinement in multiple locations. Being confined at multiple locations makes pursuing a legal case for asylum considerably more difficult. About 60% of adults who were detained in fiscal year 2015 experienced at least one interfacility transfer during their detention. Of those adults who were transferred, about 86% experienced at least one intercity transfer, 37% experienced at least one interstate transfer, and 29% experienced at least one transfer across different federal judicial circuits.
• According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks federal spending, there are currently 829,000 cases pending in U.S. immigration courts. That backlog has increased by 50% since President Trump took office in 2017.
• During the same span in 2017, ICE arrested 28,011 undocumented immigrants without a criminal record, a 179% increase from the same period in 2016, when the Obama administration elected to pursue primarily only those who committed serious criminal offenses.
• In 2015 the average stay for a detainee was 39 days. According to ICE's own data, average length of stay for a family detained in 2017 was 58 days.
Why New Richmond
The News reached out to ICA CEO Russell Harper, ICA COO Duane Ragsdale, and ICA Executive and Investor Ken Newsome for comment but has not heard back from any of the executives as of this publication.
The News was able to speak with John Truscott, Principal at Truscott Rossman (TR), a public relations firm headquartered in Lansing. TR is assisting ICA with searches for potential detention center sites in MIchigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. New Richmond is the only Wisconsin site currently being considered by ICA. These searches are taking place simultaneously in response to a recent Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by ICE seeking additional potential detention facility sites around the country.
"I believe the deadline for the RFP in New Richmond is by the end of May. It's a really quick turnaround. I don't know the exact date," said Truscott.
The ICE field office in Chicago is responsible for enforcement and removal operations in Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin. Another ICE field office in St. Paul is responsible for the same operations in Iowa, MInnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
"The federal government has put out RFP's for these different areas. There are geographic restrictions on where they can go. It's typically like a 100-mile radius from where they want it to go. So it does serve local areas. The federal government tends to look at 'Where are detainees being held now?', which jails and things like that. They try to determine where people are coming from and then they try to put a detention facility somewhere near that area," said Truscott.
Wisconsin currently has two facilities housing undocumened adult immigrants: Kenosha County Detention Center and Dodge County Detention Facility. On June 20, 2018 the Kenosha Center was holding 166 immigration detainees that day. On June 22, 2018 the Dodge County facility reported having 188 immigration detainees.
According to Truscott, ICE is solely responsible for who they send to a given facility, but ICE can change their minds and they can alter the RFP process. ICA has no control over who is placed in their facility.
According to Truscott, already having a correctional facility in New Richmond did play a role in ICA's selection of New Richmond as a potential landing site for the new facility.
"I don't know all of the details, but typically what they look for is, a community that is a willing host and one that has experience with a correctional type facility, because then you have typically an employee base to call from where people are skilled in that area. There also has to be land available and this location is right next to a corrections facility so it made a lot of sense," said Truscott.
Truscott made the case that right now, people who are being picked up by ICE are being housed in jails in Wisconsin, facilities that lack "amenities" like the opportunity for good medical care, exercise facilities, libraries, and access for 24-hour visitation, amenities that a facility like the one being proposed would have.
On Feb. 16, 2019, Michigan Radio reported that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer canceled a pending contract with ICA for the sale of a former correctional facility in Ionia, Mich. The facility was to be rebuilt into a 600-bed detention center for undocumented immigrants. ICA projected the facility would employ 363 people and have a regional economic impact of $34.5 million. ICA is still researching potential private property sites in the Detroit area to build a detention facility.
Michigan Radio reported that following a thorough review process which included input from local elected officials, community leaders, civil rights organizations and ICA, Whitmer canceled the contract when, "it was determined that ICA was unable to agree to terms that guaranteed that this 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."
Michigan Radio further reported, "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."