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Our View: ICE looks at Pine Island for detention center

ICE detention center
The Karnes County, Texas, Civil Detention Center is privately owned by GEO Group, which contracts with ICE. Another private prison operator, Management and Training Corp., has proposed building a 640-bed detention center in Pine Island for ICE detainees.
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What do we know about the potential for an ICE immigrant detention center in Pine Island?

We know this:

Immigation and Customs Enforcement is detaining an ever-growing number of people suspected of customs and immigration violations.

The Trump administration has pledged to add more detention centers to hold them while their cases are processed.

In early October, ICE put out a request for information for construction of new detention centers near St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit and Salt Lake City, Utah. According to the document, the process was to identify "multiple possible detention sites to hold criminal aliens and other immigration violators in support of its public safety mission ... Each site must be capable of providing detention, medical, and transportation services."

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The deadline: Oct. 26, indicating some urgency.

The agency received proposals from for-profit companies and from counties in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. One of the proposals was from a blandly named Utah-based company, Management and Training Corp. , which proposes to build a 640-bed detention center in Pine Island.

That much was revealed by the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center , based on documents it obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The Associated Press then broke the story .

Pine Island city officials say they were contacted by Management and Training Corp. in October, most likely involving property in the Elk Run area, and they haven’t heard much since.

That’s where it stands, which from our vantage point means: There’s a live proposal out there for Pine Island, and ICE is reviewing its options. There are at least two other proposals from Minnesota. One would re-open the privately built Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, which is about three times as far from St. Paul as Pine Island. The other would expand the jail at Sherburne County, in Elk River, but would have fewer beds than the Pine Island proposal calls for.

Details of the proposals aren’t available, and who knows how much the Pine Island project would cost versus the others, but on the face of it, Pine Island has advantages, including the deluxe, $33.4 million U.S. Highway 52 interchange that was built for the yet-to-be-realized Elk Run biobusiness park, which promoters at the time said could be a billion-dollar development. So far, it’s been a billion-dollar bust, and since the interchange opened in 2013 , it’s been called the "bridge to nowhere."

If an immigrant detention center were to be built in that area, the nickname would take on a whole new meaning.

It would also be a major jolt to the economy for Pine Island and Oronoco. A 640-bed jail — a more informative word in place of "detention center" — would hold three times as many detainees as the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center and about four times as many as in the Goodhue County jail in Red Wing.

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Jails aren’t cheap. A reasonable guess for the total cost would be between $50 million and $100 million. When the state looked at buying the Appleton prison, which is twice as big as the Pine Island proposal, the cost to repair and renovate was estimated at nearly $200 million.

The Pine Island city administrator told the Post Bulletin this week that the facility would resemble "a high school with a fence around it." Maybe so, but you can expect security concerns and other highly charged issues related to immigration to come up if the project were to move forward — and ICE isn’t the most transparent agency in the federal government, so we may not know it’s happening until a press release is issued.

It’s probably to the advantage of Pine Island officials and property owners at this point to downplay the possibility, but it’s reasonable for others to say: This could happen.

When asked for comment Thursday, ICE provided this statement to the Post Bulletin:

"ICE is still developing its acquisition strategy based on the responses the agency received to Requests for Information. ICE will move forward with a Request for Proposal. ICE has identified a need for an immigration detention facility within the areas listed in the RFI. The proposed facilities are part of the agency’s long-term nationwide effort to reform the current immigration detention system by improving the conditions of confinement, and by locating detainees closer to where they are apprehended so that they can be near their families, attorneys, community resources and the nearest ICE Field Office. ICE is committed to making sensible detention reforms, and we continue to look for other locations to achieve that goal."

Related Topics: PINE ISLAND
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