Wisconsin Community Rejects Private Detention Centre

Community opposition to plans for the first privately run immigration detention centre in Wisconsin has resulted in the proposal, in the works for the past year, being withdrawn in May. Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America had wanted to build a 500-bed detention centre it claimed would generate more than 200 full-time jobs and millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that companies that build such centres are being encouraged by federal officials, but resisted at the state and local levels. The newspaper reported:

"Public outcry over the plan was fierce, with residents opposing the detention of immigrants, and expressing concerns about use of tax dollars and property values. The city's staff had issued a report recommending officials reject the application for rezoning and related ordinance changes, saying the project did not fit in the city's development plan.

"After the St. Croix plans were made public in early April, a wave of public rejection spread through the area. St. Croix County Supervisor Daniel Hansen, who represents some New Richmond wards, was one of the first to organize opposition against the center. He said he believes it is immoral to incarcerate those who are fleeing their country and trying to seek refuge in the U.S."

"I feel it's inhumane to treat an asylum-seeker like a criminal," Hansen said. He contacted advocacy groups, ordered signs opposing the project and prepared a list of reasons why he thought the project would be bad for the city. He knocked on doors, called friends and reached out to others to build a campaign. He said both Democrats and Republicans were against the project.

Other groups in Wisconsin also organized to stop the project, including the American Civil Liberties Union-Wisconsin and immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera. "This is a for-profit business that is making money out of discrimination and breaking up families and our economy," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. "This has no place in Wisconsin."

New Richmond Alderwoman Scottie Ard lost count of the number of calls she received opposing the project, adding, "Most of the callers had not only a moral objection to a detention center, but they also have the objection that this is not what we want our community to be known for."

The number of those being detained by ICE has rapidly increased since fiscal year 2016, when ICE held an average of 34,376 immigrants on any given day. The average for this fiscal year, as of March, was 45,155, said ICE spokeswoman Nicole Alberico.

Nonetheless, the Journal-Sentinel points out, that "even in counties like St. Croix that voted for Donald Trump, [...] plans have not worked out. Immigration Centers of America, which owns a detention facility in Virginia, also has been trying to secure two multimillion-dollar federal contracts to open detention centers in Illinois and Michigan.

"The company has run into opposition there, too.

"Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer canceled earlier this year the sale of a shuttered state prison in Ionia that the company hoped to use as a detention center, saying the company could not guarantee it would not be holding adults separated from their children at the border. [Immigration Centres of America] spokesman John Truscott said the company is looking at other options near Detroit.

"In Illinois, the Village of Dwight board voted in favor of the company's request to annex a property where they plan to build a 1,200-bed immigration detention center in March despite the opposition of immigrant advocates. But the plan may yet be blocked, as state lawmakers are pushing for legislation banning private detention centers. The bill passed the Illinois House in early April."

Fred Tsao, with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights, said immigrant detention is cruel and unnecessary. "One can make a detention facility as nice as you can, but it's still a jail, it's still a prison," he said.

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 17 - May 11, 2019

Article Link:
Wisconsin Community Rejects Private Detention Centre


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