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Ionia City Council mulls proposed immigrant detention center

prison bars

The Ionia City Council is considering whether to approve the sale of a former correctional facility to a private prison company to use as an immigrant detention center. Immigration Centers of America made their pitch to Ionia's City Council Tuesday night.

ICA is planning to contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain up to 600 undocumented immigrants. They say the detention center will bring more than three hundred jobs to the area, and add millions to the local and state economy.

Jason Eppler is the Ionia City Manager. He says the council will be weighing whether the detention center aligns with the community's values.

"The whole immigration issue right now has a lot of national attention from a social policy perspective, so I'm sure some of that will come out as our council members evaluate if they're supportive," says Eppler.

ICA currently operates an immigrant detention center in Virginia. In its presentation to the city council, ICA said that it only houses adult male detainees.

ICA also said that its detention center would create 363 jobs in the area with a total regional economic impact of $34.5 million. 

The state of michigan has declared the former Deerfield property of about 50 acres as surplus property and transferred it to the state land bank. The land bank recently solicited proposals for the redevelopment of that 50 acres. ICA was the only bidder on the property. The sale to ICA is contingent on a successful government contract to operate the detention center. 

On the local level, Ionia would need to approve a three-party development agreement between the land bank, ICA, and the City. That agreement would include zoning and a site plan for the project. 

The Deerfield property currently has buildings from the correctional facility. ICA told City Council that most of those buildings would be removed, and a new building would be constructed to house the detainees.

According to Eppler, the proposed detention center would provide income to the community in several ways. The Deerfield property is currently owned by the state and is exempt from property taxes. Once owned by a private company, it would be subject to property taxes from local governments. Ionia also has a city income tax of 1 percent for residents and .5 percent for non-residents. Employees of the detention center would pay those income taxes. Lastly, the facility would receive water and sewer services, and would pay quarterly utility bills for that.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.
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