Company eyes Ionia land for federal immigration detention center

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Barbed wire and fencing at a correctional facility.

A for-profit federal detention company wants to build a $35 million immigration detention center at the site of the former Deerfield Correctional Facility in Ionia, which closed in 2009.

The facility would house 500 to 600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees and employ 264 people, said Dennis Muchmore, Gov. Rick Snyder’s former chief of staff who is now representing the developer Immigration Centers of America.

The plan depends on approvals from the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority and the eventual request for such a facility from the federal government. ICE indicated in 2017 that it was looking for a facility “to provide suitable housing for their Detroit Field Office operations,” according to the proposal from Immigration Centers of America.

The company submitted its plan to the Land Bank in early October and expects to hear back within a week, Muchmore said. ICA is the only bidder on the property, he said.

“It’s a piece of property that I’ve had my eye on for a while,” Muchmore said of the 37-acre Deerfield site.

The proposal "is moving through the existing process without influence from the Governor, as it should be," said Jordan Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder's office. 

ICA has constructed more than 60 commercial and industrial projects in the United States, according to the proposal, and is confident the company “is uniquely positioned to compete for and be awarded the contract by ICE.”

The detention facility would house those awaiting deportation proceedings, and most would stay there for an average of 50 days, Muchmore said.

Currently, ICE has agreements with three county jails to hold detainees in St. Clair, Monroe and Calhoun counties, said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls. ICE's Detroit area of responsibility, which includes Michigan and Ohio, has logged consistently fewer immigrant removals in recent years, from 4,473 in fiscal year 2013 to 2,056 in fiscal year 2016.

Immigration Centers of America would demolish some existing structures on the land and build a 166,000-square-foot facility that would include a kitchen, cafeteria, chapel, recreation areas, computer and gaming stations and access to music and movie libraries. The facility also would have a full-time doctor, dentist and mental health counselors, according to the proposal submitted to the Land Bank.

The company says it partners with immigrants’ rights groups to advise detainees of their legal rights and brings in university students and faculty to offer classes to detainees.

The 12-month to 18-month construction would create 289 jobs in Ionia and Ionia County and generate about $3 million in overall tax revenue, according to the proposal. Ongoing operations at the facility would result in 363 jobs and $1.6 million annually in overall tax revenue. Site preparation and construction is estimated to cost about $35 million.

Immigration Centers of America is “top of the line,” said Muchmore, who did not anticipate pushback from Ionia residents regarding the proposal.

“Long term, it’s a great opportunity for the local region,” he said. “But that doesn’t minimize the fact that no one likes to see people detained.”

The city as of now is offering no concessions or enticements to buy and build on the land, said Ionia City Manager Jason Eppler. But past discussions with the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority have included possibilities for aid in the removal of buildings on the site, which Eppler described as an "eyesore."

The city also is home to the Ionia Correctional Facility, Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, Michigan Reformatory and former Riverside Correctional Facility. Between 1,000 and 1,200 state corrections employees work at the Ionia facilities and pay the city's income tax, which helps to offset the lack of property tax revenue from the state-owned properties. 

Muchmore said the city understands detention issues “probably better than any other city in the Midwest." Eppler agreed but noted that a detention center differs from the corrections facilities residents are used to.

"Detention facilities are a little different in terms of turnover and nationally there’s a little bit of a different light shed on them," he said.

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