Should Pine Island stay in the discussion for ICE detention center?
PINE ISLAND — "I try to explain it, but some of them, they’re looking for a fight."
Pine Island City Council Member Jason Johnson has been fending off a lot of fights this week.
Alan Muller, a Red Wing resident who has been fighting the waste incinerator plan in that city, took up a new cause last week, posting to his "Airheads" blog an entry stating that Pine Island wants "a trump concentration camp."
The entry includes the email and phone numbers of the city council and mayor of Pine Island, encouraging readers to call or write to express their outrage. The blog post has been shared across social media, leading to people across the state and across the nation weighing in on a vote taken earlier this month by the city council.
On June 19, the Pine Island City Council voted unanimously — Council Member Mike Hildenbrand was not present at the meeting — to approve a resolution stating that the city is still interested in being considered for an ICE detention facility to be built by Management & Training Corporation.
Pine Island is one of six communities across the country being considered, though no funding has yet been allocated for the facility, said Pine Island Mayor Rod Steele.
On Friday, the city posted a statement on its website to answer questions about the vote and the potential detention facility.
The facility would be used to house illegal immigrants who are awaiting either deportation or sponsorship to stay in the United States, Steele said. The facility itself, which would likely be placed out at Elk Run, would cost about $130 million to construct and employ up to 200 people with salaries starting at about $45,000
"Keeping human beings in cages is not an honorable means of economic development," Muller said.
Muller said the claims by Pine Island officials that the facility would be used to hold people temporarily while awaiting deportation or sponsorship are just that, claims that the public at this point cannot verify. He also questioned the need for more detention facilities if, as the federal government claims, the number of people crossing the border is decreasing.
But Steele and Johnson said the city is tied by its zoning ordinances. Any sale of land for a detention facility likely would be between MTC and Tower Investments, which owns Elk Run. The city could not stop a sale between private companies and, if the facility meets the zoning requirements for the land, the city has little ability to stop it.
Muller called that claim by city officials "Bull----."
"They have the ability to determine what is an acceptable land use," he said. "I see no mention of prisons or ‘detention centers’ or concentration camps in the (city’s comprehensive plan), either as a use-by-right or conditional use."
However, Steele said most people complaining about the city’s vote that essentially tells MTC it would simply like to remain in the conversation about the facility are misinformed.
"They don’t understand what’s happening," he said. "It’d be like me walking into a cornfield and saying I don’t want you to plant corn, you need to plant soybeans. If it meets the zoning requirements and we deny it, we might get sued by the developer."
While he understands there are people in Pine Island who have concerns, most of the comments, Steele said, have come from people who live in the Twin Cities or outside of Minnesota.
Johnson said he’s experienced the same thing.
"One lady said, ‘Why do you want to open up an internment camp or a concentration camp,’" Johnson said. "It’s political, and they’re against it."
Muller said reasons to opt out of the facility are plentiful. If President Trump’s immigration stance gets reversed, an ICE "concentration camp" would eventually sit empty, a reminder to the city of a failed stance. Allowing the facility to be built would "greatly multiply the debacle" that has been the Elk Run development.
"Most people see gross immorality in Trump’s approach to immigration and refugee issues," Muller said. "He’s tormenting the weak for political advantage. For the City of Pine Island to seek to participate in this for economic benefit is wrong, evil, shameful, and dishonorable."
Steele said that while he welcomes discussion on the topic, that is the reason the city passed its resolution: to stay in the discussion. And while he’s heard from plenty of people outside Pine Island on the issue, one concern came from a constituent at that June 19 meeting.
Steele said Megan Parks, who regularly attends city council meetings, said her concern was the city would be cast in a bad light by remaining in the discussion for the ICE facility.
"If it’s going to cast a negative image on Pine Island," Steele said, "that’s something we need to consider."