One of the largest private prison companies in the country, the GEO Group, opened an immigrant prison in Baldwin, Michigan in October 2019. The GEO Group landed a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to open what is called a “Criminal Alien Requirement” facility, or shadow prison, at North Lake. This prison has 1800 beds for caging non-citizens who have been convicted of federal crimes. Re-entry after previously being deported from the United States is a felony, and about 32% of the imprisoned non-citizens were re-entry cases. An additional 53% of the prisoners were there on drug convictions. The North Lake Correctional Facility, the only facility of its kind in the Midwest, was one piece of the Trump administration’s larger efforts to expand their ability to detain, incarcerate, and deport immigrants. Every human should have the right to freedom of movement and we should defend this right for every immigrant by opposing North Lake Correctional and all ICE detention center in the state, including the detention happening at the Calhoun County Jail and any proposals for new facilities.
The last facility of this type in the midwest, in Youngstown, Ohio, did not have its contract renewed in 2015 after the ACLU cited multiple abuses at the prison. Their list included extreme use of isolation, lack of appropriate medical care, overpopulation, lack of programming and recreation, and restricting family visitation.
These Criminal Alien Requirement facilities are not just deportation centers. They imprison immigrants for years before deporting them, so the GEO group can further profit from the anti-immigrant movement.
In their pursuit of profit, the GEO Group has been subject to many lawsuits regarding inhumane conditions, improper medical care, torture, forced labor, sexual abuse, and deaths at their facilities. Their business model is based on cutting corners and extreme exploitation. Furthermore, private detention centers run by GEO and other companies play a central role in the overall persecution of immigrants in the United States; today over 60% of people in ICE detention are held in private facilities, with GEO being the largest ICE contractor.
In keeping with the history of immigrant-only prisons run by the GEO Group, North Lake’s incarnation as a BOP facility saw numerous accounts of inhumane conditions, medical neglect, and violent mistreatment endemic to the immigration detention system. Six documented hunger strikes took place at North Lake over the course of 2020, primarily led by Black immigrants demanding medical care, better food, and an end to discriminatory confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit. In May 2020, more than 45 relatives and loved ones of people incarcerated at North Lake signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons, demanding increased transparency and a recognition of the GEO Group’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis.
In addition to its brutal treatment of immigrants, the GEO Group has also preyed on the people of Lake County, the poorest county in the state of Michigan. The GEO Group promised to hire the majority of workers at North Lake, but from figures available when they opened in October 2019, they had only hired 69 from a total of approximately 300 positions. Unsurprisingly these positions have a reputation for high turnover rates and poor working conditions. No wage is worth working as a concentration camp guard and the people of Lake County deserve better than the GEO Group.
The Biden administration issued an executive order in January 2021 purporting to end the federal government’s use of private prisons, setting the stage for the facility’s closure in September 2022. But immigrant advocates have pointed to a pattern of similar facilities ending their BOP contracts only to reopen as detention centers, while the number of immigrants held in ICE custody has continued to rise since President Biden took office, despite campaign promises to curtail detention. Eighty percent of the immigrants detained by ICE are held at facilities run by private companies. In June 2022, Michigan Representatives Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar publicly requested that North Lake be converted into a detention center.
In calling for an ICE contract, 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. 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.