Immigrant detention center could box out governor with private land deal

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she does not know what authority — if any — she would have if a Virginia-based company opts for private land after the governor canceled its state land bid.

“I don’t know what my options would be, so I can’t tell you at this juncture,” Whitmer told reporters at a Michigan Works! event in Lansing.

Gretchen Whitmer

Two weeks ago, the governor halted plans from Immigration Centers of America (ICA) to build a $35 million private immigrant detention center in Ionia.

Her decision came, in part, because of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration and the agency’s previous policy of family separation.

In June 2018, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order reversing that policy with a new one that detains entire families together, including children.

But a spokeswoman for Whitmer said the governor still could not guarantee that the proposed detention center would not separate families, as the Michigan Advance first reported.

So the governor ordered the director of the Michigan Land Bank to reverse the preliminary $1.7 million land sale deal it brokered with the company, pending local and federal approval.

That plan may not be dead, however.

Dennis Muchmore

ICA’s legal counsel says the company may instead consider private land — an event in which the governor may be powerless to stop a new detention center, as the Advance also reported.

ICE has put out a request for a new immigrant detention center within 150 miles from its Detroit field office. State land ICA had bid on in Ionia was about 130 miles from the Detroit office.

“I’m sure we would consider private land,” Dennis Muchmore previously told the Advance. “That’s what makes the decision so baffling.”

Muchmore is contracted as ICA’s legal counsel in Michigan and was former Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff.

A spokeswoman for Whitmer said they will “cross that bridge if [and] when it happens.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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