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50+ groups urge Biden, Whitmer to prevent Baldwin prison from becoming ICE detention center

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50+ groups urge Biden, Whitmer to prevent Baldwin prison from becoming ICE detention center

Sep 27, 2022 | 2:35 pm ET
By Laina G. Stebbins
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50+ groups urge Biden, Whitmer to prevent Baldwin prison from becoming ICE detention center
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North Lake Correctional Facility | Mary Minnick photo

Following a bid from two GOP Michigan congressmen to turn a soon-to-be shuttered immigration prison in Baldwin into an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, a coalition of 53 advocacy groups from Michigan and beyond are asking President Joe Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other leaders to keep it closed.

The North Lake Correctional Facility, located in a rural Northwest Michigan village, has been Michigan’s first and only private, for-profit immigrant prison since it was opened in 2019 during the Trump administration.

The controversial facility is slated to close on Friday, in accordance with a January 2021, executive order from Biden that directed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to not renew contracts with for-profit prisons.

50+ groups urge Biden, Whitmer to prevent Baldwin prison from becoming ICE detention center
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) and John Moolenaar (R-Midland) were “extremely disappointed” to hear of the closing, and in June asked federal officials including U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to convert the prison into an ICE detention center.

“It is vitally important for the Midwest region to have the capacity and facilities to keep our communities safe and dangerous criminals off the street,” the congressmen wrote, adding that jobs would be lost if the Baldwin facility was allowed to close.

The controversial facility has been the ire of immigration activists since its inception, particularly during COVID-19. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which had a contract to run the facility until 2019, offered sparse public information about inmates and COVID-19 cases during the height of the pandemic. 

As the Advance reported, family members of prisoners described unsafe conditions, inadequate nutrition, sick people going without treatment and, eventually, hunger strikes.

The prison housed an all-male population of non-U.S. citizens serving federal sentences for low-level criminal offenses. All inmates faced deportation after completing their sentences.

No Detention Centers in Michigan (NDCM), a group that has led efforts to raise awareness about conditions at the facility with the hopes of seeing it shut down, drafted the Monday letter to Biden, Whitmer, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.).

“We are deeply troubled by this proposal because it follows a recent pattern of actions from the Biden administration contravening its stated goal of ending the use of private facilities for detention, because we know that ICE operates a system of abusive and inhumane detention centers across the country, and because the presence of this prison in Baldwin has been disastrous for decades,” the letter reads.

50+ groups urge Biden, Whitmer to prevent Baldwin prison from becoming ICE detention center
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar | Ken Coleman

“ … In calling for an ICE contract to bail out the GEO Group in Michigan yet again, 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.”

The prison is owned by GEO Group, a Florida-based company that has faced numerous lawsuits and claims of misconduct mostly involving alleged human rights violations, unlawful conditions and wrongful death suits.

Signatories of the Monday letter encompass more than 20 Michigan-based groups — including the ACLU of Michigan and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center — and more than 30 groups from across the country, including the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“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,” the letter reads.