The fight over detention centers for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers spread to Wisconsin this year after a private corporation tried to gain approval at two sites in St. Croix County.
Both were rebuffed over a combination of public outcry from residents, the cost of infrastructure improvements needed, conflicts with city development plans and opposition from immigrants-rights groups, according to a recent report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
At issue was a 500-bed detention center that a private company, Immigration Centers of America, had proposed for New Richmond, and then for nearby Baldwin, 20 miles away.
The Virginia-based company said its center would generate more than 200 full-time jobs and bring in millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues, according to reports. After months of negotiations and increasing opposition, the firm withdrew its plans.
Wisconsin is not alone in facing this issue, as the federal government is trying to cope with a rise in the number of asylum seekers from Central America and detained immigrants — a 32 percent increase in three years.
They’re seeking to do it with private detention centers, and companies like Immigration Centers of America are vying for the federal contracts.
There are all sorts of facets to this dispute. There are the “not in my backyard” folks who simply don’t want their community to host a prison or detention center. There are those who flat-out oppose asylum seekers, and there are those who say these types of centers belong near border states.
We’ll add another to that list: Our objection is to privatizing these responsibilities.
Whether you call them detention centers or prisons, the fact is these people are being held against their will by the government. The responsibilities for incarcerating someone should not be delegated to a private company that is not subject to the same checks and balances as a government entity.
Wisconsin saw how that played out in the 1990s, when it sent hundreds of state prisoners to privately held prisons in Tennessee and Oklahoma to ease overcrowding here.
It led to a fracas in one private prison in which a guard was nearly killed, and inmates complaining of being beaten and abused. Seven of the prison company’s employees were fired. Wisconsin pulled back on its inmate export initiative.
We don’t need to replicate that experience with rent-a-detention center here.