Recently a private corporation, ICA, requested a zoning change in New Richmond for the purposes of building an ICE detention center for immigrants.  ICA already runs one detention center in Virginia and is under contract with ICE to hold immigrants there. The proposed 500-bed detention center received quite a lot of resistance in the community, especially in social media. The city received many questions and irate phone calls from community members, and they hired a publicity firm to handle the phone calls and questions. Attempts were made to organize against the center and to call for a large turnout at the community meeting scheduled for the 23rd. These plans were being made in social media and in a campaign by the ACLU.

Yesterday the city released a staff report on the proposed rezoning which found several issues with the plan:

  • It was at odds with the city's comprehensive plan.
  • Accepting this rezoning would require extensive re-working of the comprehensive plan
  • It would require expansion of water supply facilities
  • Sanitary system facilities were inadequate and would need to be upgraded
  • Storm water facilities required changes
  • The road near the facility would require upgrades
  • ICA would need to accept responsibility for the infrastructure upgrades
  • There was not a sufficient buffer zone between the proposed facility and residential areas

As a result of this, the staff report recommended against accepting the rezoning application. 

 ICA, on its part, responded to the staff report by withdrawing its application for the zoning change. In their response they stated:

"We're disappointed the city has decided to reject our proposal," said Duane Ragsdale, the COO of Immigration Centers of America, in a statement contained in the release. "Due to this decision being made now, we will be unable to locate another site to comply with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's RFP deadline in May.

"As a result, immigrants being detained in Wisconsin and Minnesota will be forced to remain incarcerated in local and county jails while awaiting their time in immigration court, rather than in a facility more suitable for those being held on civil charges."

The withdrawal of the request was met by joy in social media overnight and today, with many of the celebrants calling this an example of the citizenry winning by speaking out.

Let's examine this. Though it is certainly clear that there was quite a lot of speaking out against the center, it's not clear at all that this had anything to do with the demise of the plan. Instead, let's call out a strong comprehensive plan developed by the city, and the will to stick to it despite the likely financial gain to the community from building the center. Strong zoning laws are one of the few avenues left for local rule in Wisconsin, and areas that do not take advantage of zoning and comprehensive plans become sitting ducks for unwanted development, as we have seen over and over with sand mine siting in the state. It's also likely that another reason this all fell through was the very tight timeline on which ICA was operating. They had already had a plan for a different unknown city in the state fall through, and as alluded to in their response they needed to have plans ready for an RFP from ICE in a May timeframe. 

Note that the city had not formally rejected the plan - they merely had a staff report recommending that the city council turn the plan down. The council could have decided to go forward with the plan in any case (though it seems likely they would not have). Note that the city had a very aggressive timeline for this plan and possibly could have approved the plan at the combined land planning and council meeting planned in May - this combination of meetings would have been the only way to get the approval underway quickly enough for ICE to accept the plan. Instead, ICA withdrew, undoubtedly not because they were unwilling to fight for the approval, but because they knew how unlikely it was to be able to get an approval in time to have ICE approve the facility.  

In the long run the demise of this plan is mostly due to a comprehensive plan that was already in place, and a city staff that did due diligence in writing the staff report. It seems doubtful that public outcry over the plan had made a difference in this (though it may have made a difference if the community meeting had actually taken place). In the long run the city is much more encumbered by its own plans and laws that by public disapproval. 

This is somewhat of a hollow victory. ICE still detains adult immigrants in two facilities in the state, and that is likely to expand now that the detention center will not be built. Most of these facilities around the country are jails that are contracted to ICE to detain immigrants, and they are often ill-prepared to deal with the special needs of these cases. The real problem here is not the building of the facilities, but the insistence of the Federal Government of jailing people who may or may not be in the country legally. In particular, the current administration has chosen to incarcerate people as a first step, and that is the actual problem at work. Unless we elect officials that are willing to develop an actual solution to immigration rather than make a political game of it, the madness will continue. Fixing that problem is much harder.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Consortium, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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