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Pine Island weighs economic benefit of proposed immigration detention facility against personal views


A proposed immigration detention center in Pine Island has community members weighing the benefit of new jobs against having a physical reminder of a controversial issue in their backyards. It started last fall when Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a public notice that it was looking at sites for new detention centers across the country.

Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private detention company responded to the agency and thinks Pine Island would be a good fit. The small town is one of six sites ICE is looking at. The proposed 640-bed detention facility house undocumented immigrants waiting for a decision in their immigration cases or waiting to be deported.

"We have a dilemma here,  we've got the emotional, political, that's so against us nationally, and we've got the economic benefit for the city," said Rod Steele, Mayor of Pine Island.

If built, the facility would replace the city's public school district as the largest employer. 

"Property taxes. There's an economic benefit for us there, and we gotta look at it. We may not go along with it, but we have to at least investigate it," said Steele.

The mayor says the facility would bring in 200 jobs with salaries starting at about $45,000.

Michele Garnett McKenzie is the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. She says once here, the detainees could be held for weeks or months. 

"People are held for as long as it takes for a hearing to be scheduled, for a trial to happen, and for an appeals to happen and then for the government to actually remove the person from the United States," said Garnett McKenzie. 

Construction for the proposed facility is expected to cost $130 million.

"The building itself looks like a grade school, it's not an evil looking place," said Steele.

Pine Island city leaders say MTC has its eye on a vast, empty privately owned land called Elk Run. 

In a statement released by the City, "The City of Pine Island will have very little span of control other than zoning and utilities. In fact, legally, we may not be in a position to refuse the project if it moves forward."

"We don't like to get in and start telling landowners what they can and can't do," said Steele.

Residents are on the fence. Some disagree with the proposal and say that there are other options to bring revenue to the city. 

"I've seen how separating families is tearing people apart, so I can't really be in support of a facility that does that," said Sarah-Louise Henry, a resident of Pine Island. 

"The location of the detention center doesn't necessarily concern me as much as the fact that more and more do exist," said Vanessa Stensgard who recently moved to the city. 

Mayor Steele is emphasizing the immigration detention facility is just an idea at this point. If ICE selects the city, there will be many open hearings and opportunities for the public to weigh in.

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