APPLETON — Opposition is forming to stop a bid by CoreCivic to open a portion of its former Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton as a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
More than 160 people attended a meeting Tuesday evening in Appleton called by an informal network of people who oppose the former prison's possible use as an ICE detention center.
Calling it “morally unjust and not compatible with Minnesota values,” organizer Amy Bacigalupo of Montevideo said a petition will be circulated and presented to legislators, county commissioners and city council members in the area. It will let them know that many in the region are opposed to the possible use of the facility as a detention center, Bacigalupo told the crowd.
She acknowledged that a decision on its use will not likely be a local one. If it happens, she said the opponents intend to organize and protest.
“We have learned over and over again that ICE holds immigrants and exiles in abusive and inhumane conditions. We oppose that,” said Athena Kildegaard of Morris, one of the organizers who addressed the crowd.
CoreCivic told elected officials who toured the shuttered facility in April that it was submitting a bid to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house up to 500 detainees in the St. Paul region. If the bid is awarded, detainees would arrive in 2021, Kelly Durham, state partnership relations representative with CoreCivic, told the elected officials in April.
The 1,660-bed facility has not held inmates since 2010, but CoreCivic maintains the private prison at the ready. It has made known its ongoing interest in re-opening facility to hold inmates or selling it to the state for use as a prison.
Bacigalupo said that news of the bid by CoreCivic to re-open a portion of the facility as an ICE detention center led a group of people from around the region to organize the meeting and make known their opposition.
Organizers were unsure how many people would attend the meeting, and were pleased by the showing Tuesday.
Not all of those who attended were opposed to the prison’s use as a detention center.
Kevin Flemings, who said he was among the first to work in the prison when it originally opened, received a smattering of applause when he spoke up in favor of seeing it re-opened. “My personal opinion: It needs to be opened in whatever capacity. This area needs something,” he said.
The opponents of the prison’s use as a detention center also pointed out the economic losses associated with its closing, and said they supported efforts to find new uses for it.
Brian Wojtalewicz, an Appleton attorney, said the Swift County community, population 1,400, has seen its population decline by one-third since 1960. At its peak, the prison employed 86 people who lived in Appleton and another 202 from around the region. Today, Appleton has a population that is older than the average in the state, is poorer, and it has more single parents per capita, he told those at the meeting.
The community’s largest employers today are the schools, day care, nursing home and social services, Wojtalewicz said. “So the town is very hungry for jobs,” he said.
The desire for jobs is what leads immigrants to the U.S., he and others said.
A number of people at the meeting spoke up to support better treatment of those seeking asylum and a better life here. Kildegaard said opponents of the facility’s use as a detention center favor community-based alternatives to detention.
Along with making known their opposition to a detention center, Bacigalupo said the organizers would also be open to hosting a conversation with CoreCivic about its plans.
She said a study indicated it would require a nearly $200 million investment to purchase and upgrade the facility for its use by the state as a prison. She and others said they believe the money would be better invested to meet economic and social needs in the region.
Bacigalupo said the organizers represent a variety of people from around the region. They support the efforts of statewide groups opposing ICE detention centers in the state. “Our point. It is not just saying no to ICE detention here,” she said.