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No Detention Centers in Michigan demands that the Biden Administration not allow a Michigan prison to be used as an ICE Detention Center

September 28, 2022

There has been an interesting dynamic happening around immigration issues in the US, especially since the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. While there was a great deal of public outcry during the Trump years, immigration justice organizing has faded so far into the second year of the Biden administration.

Despite this trend, there is plenty of evidence that many of the same anti-immigrant policies that was zealously embraced during the Trump years, are being continued during the Biden administration. The main difference seems to be in the rhetoric, but not the actual policy. Here are a few examples of how the Biden administration has continued Trump’s immigration policies:

This last issue, the use of ICE Detention Centers, is making the news in Michigan again. According to a Press Release, “The No Detention Centers in Michigan coalition has recently sent a letter to President Biden, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Senator Gary Peters calling for an end to the expansion of immigration detention and for the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin to remain closed. This letter follows a recent proposal from Michigan Representatives Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar to repurpose the facility as an ICE detention center.” 

The No Detention Centers in Michigan coalition letter has over 50 groups that have signed on to the letter, which you can read at this link.

The letter seeks to pressure the Biden Administration to keep its promise not to renew contracts with private prisons.  Executive Order 14006 instructed the Department of Justice not to renew contracts with private prisons. This is a central part of the No Detention Centers in Michigan coalition’s Press Release, which states:

North Lake, a private prison owned and managed by the Florida-based GEO Group, has closed and reopened multiple times since its construction in 1999. In its most recent incarnation, from October 2019 through September 2022, the facility contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hold non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes.

In keeping with the history of immigrant-only prisons run by the GEO Group, this period of less than two years has seen numerous accounts of inhumane conditions, medical neglect, and violent mistreatment endemic to the immigration detention system. Six documented hunger strikes took place at North Lake over the course of 2020, primarily led by Black immigrants demanding medical care, better food, and an end to discriminatory confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit. In May 2020, more than 45 relatives and loved ones of people incarcerated at North Lake signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons, demanding increased transparency and a recognition of the GEO Group’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Biden administration issued an executive order in January 2021 purporting to end the federal government’s use of private prisons, setting the stage for the facility’s closure later this month. But immigrant advocates have pointed to a pattern of similar facilities ending their BOP contracts only to reopen as detention centers, while the number of immigrants held in ICE custody has continued to rise since President Biden took office, despite campaign promises to curtail detention. Eighty percent of the immigrants detained by ICE are held at facilities run by private companies. In June, Michigan Representatives Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar publicly requested that North Lake be converted into a detention center.

“In calling for an ICE contract to bail out the GEO Group in Michigan yet again,” the letter from NDCM affirms, “Huizenga and Moolenaar seek to capitalize on the human misery caused by the organized abandonment and exploitation of working people both within the United States and beyond its borders. […] We refuse to let ICE and GEO expand their violence further into Michigan, and we call on the Biden administration to extend Executive Order 14006 to explicitly prohibit the use of private facilities for immigration detention as a first step toward phasing out all ICE detention.”

“This prison has already caused enormous suffering and has never fulfilled GEO’s promises to the people of Lake County,” said Oscar Castañeda, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “Now the federal prison contract is finally ending, but we’ve seen that GEO will exploit any opportunity to make a profit. When it comes to the immigrant detention system, the Biden administration has not kept its word. We’re not going to let ICE expand here without a fight. We want to make sure that the loopholes allowing for the expansion of detention are closed and that this time, North Lake stays shut down for good.”

Pressuring the Biden administration on this matter is critical, especially since there has been less mainstream attention to immigration issues over the past two years. Just because a Democrat occupies the White House, it doesn’t mean that immigrant justice is being fulfilled. 

If you want to communicate with No Detention Centers in Michigan, you can contact them via their Facebook page, which posts regular updates.

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