Pine Island gives ICE facility cold shoulder
PINE ISLAND — The Pine Island City Council on Tuesday backed away from their earlier support for being considered as a potential site for an ICE detention center.
The reversal came after widespread public outcry following a council resolution passed in June. That resolution said the city would like to be considered as a potential site for a Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility run by Management & Training Corp.
During the council’s July meeting, members of the community spoke on both sides of the issue.
However, Pine Island Mayor Rod Steele said Tuesday that the decision to withdraw from consideration for the facility wasn’t based on public input as much as it was on further investigation by the council into the possibility of getting funding for the project.
"We don’t see any action happening until after the mid-terms," Steele said. "Probably next year is the earliest anything like this could get funded. To subject our town to this negative rhetoric for a number of months is not the right thing."
He added that the council has chosen to at least temporarily withdraw the city from consideration by MTC in order to maintain a good relationship with Tower Investments, the management company that owns the Elk Run property where the ICE detention center would most likely have been built.
The resolution was passed with unanimous support from council members and nearly unanimous support from individuals attending the meeting. Many of those present carried signs or wore pink and red heart-shaped sticky notes to show their support of the new resolution.
The council heard from 11 individuals during the public comment portion of the meeting. Nine of those, including seven Pine Island residents and two people from the region, spoke in favor of the new resolution, expressing thanks to the council for coming to their decision so quickly. A few stated they would have seriously considered moving away if a detention center had been built in Pine Island.
"I really hope you’ve heard that you can’t divorce yourself of some sort of moral compass," Pine Island resident Julie Baska said.
Baska also urged the council to consider Pine Island’s comprehensive plan when making development decisions.
"I strongly urge that the council look at that, and you’ve said you would so we’ll hold you to that," she said.
Others encouraged the council to refrain from revisiting the topic in the future, saying it could hurt the city’s growth.
Pine Island resident Mark Stenberg said he considers immigration a national issue best addressed at the national level. He compared building a detention center in Pine Island to "putting a dirty Band-Aid on an abscess." He thanked the council for "shouldering this issue you may not have created for yourself but maybe have to bear."
Two individuals, a Pine Island resident and a local business owner, expressed disappointment that the council had changed its mind.
Tony Beck, owner of Beck’s Auto Center just outside of Pine Island, said that the five largest counties in Minnesota all have jails or ICE facilities and said building the center would have helped reduce Pine Island’s taxes and attracted new business.
"I myself personally would like to build a business in this town, but the taxes are too high," he said.
Mayor Rod Steele said the council’s decision to rescind its June resolution was likely to generate mixed reactions from the community. He went on to express thanks to the council for taking on the controversial subject.
"They did exactly what they said they were going to do," he said. "They said they were going to allow some time to investigate, and they did."
The results of that investigation, Steele said, combined with wavering support from the developer and a lack of state funding, are what convinced the council to change its mind.
"At this particular time, this isn’t the right thing for Pine Island," he said.