Press Release: Over 50 Groups Sign Open Letter Against Proposed Reopening of North Lake Prison in Baldwin as ICE Detention Center

For immediate release: September 26, 2022

Contact: No Detention Centers in Michigan, NoDetentionCentersMI@gmail.com

Baldwin, MI – Today, over 50 organizations from around the state of Michigan and the country sent an open letter to President Biden, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Senator Gary Peters calling for an end to the expansion of immigration detention and for the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin to remain closed. This letter follows a recent proposal from Michigan Representatives Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar to repurpose the facility as an ICE detention center.

“We are deeply troubled by this proposal,” the letter states, “because it follows a recent pattern of actions from the Biden administration contravening its stated goal of ending the use of private facilities for detention, because we know that ICE operates a system of abusive and inhumane detention centers across the country, and because the presence of this prison in Baldwin has been disastrous for decades.”

Drafted by the No Detention Centers in Michigan coalition, the letter details the troubled history of the Baldwin facility, currently due to close on September 30th, and the recent national trends that point to the possibility of its reopening with an ICE contract. The signatories include over 20 groups based in Michigan and over 30 nationally active organizations focusing on immigration and racial justice.

North Lake, a private prison owned and managed by the Florida-based GEO Group, has closed and reopened multiple times since its construction in 1999. In its most recent incarnation, from October 2019 through September 2022, the facility contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hold non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes.

In keeping with the history of immigrant-only prisons run by the GEO Group, this period of less than two years has seen 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.

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 later this month. 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, Michigan Representatives Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar publicly requested that North Lake be converted into a detention center.

“In calling for an ICE contract to bail out the GEO Group in Michigan yet again,” the letter from NDCM affirms, “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.”

“This prison has already caused enormous suffering and has never fulfilled GEO’s promises to the people of Lake County,” said Oscar Castañeda, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “Now the federal prison contract is finally ending, but we’ve seen that GEO will exploit any opportunity to make a profit. When it comes to the immigrant detention system, the Biden administration has not kept its word. We’re not going to let ICE expand here without a fight. We want to make sure that the loopholes allowing for the expansion of detention are closed and that this time, North Lake stays shut down for good.”

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No Detention Centers in Michigan is a statewide coalition building power through collective action to abolish immigration detention and migrant incarceration in Michigan and beyond.

PRESS RELEASE: As New Warden Imposes Harsh Conditions at Baldwin’s Immigrant Prison, Hunger Strikes Grow Larger in Restricted Unit

For immediate release: 8/12/2020

On Wednesday, August 5th, more than two dozen people held in the Restricted Housing Unit (or RHU) at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan launched the largest hunger strike to have taken place in that unit since the prison’s reopening last October. The strike, which has continued into the current week, came in response to longstanding discriminatory treatment as well as strict rules imposed by the facility’s new acting warden, Angela Dunbar. Appointed this summer as a replacement for Warden Donald Emerson, Dunbar has implemented harsh limits on phone access at a time when those in the RHU face an urgent need to communicate with loved ones.

“Initially there was only three inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit that wasn’t participating,” one of the strikers said on Monday, August 10th. “Latinos as well as Black as well as white. Everybody’s on the hunger strike for the purpose of [addressing] human rights violations. We got kids, we got brothers, we got sisters, mothers, fathers that we need to touch base with, and friends. Instead of making some accommodations allowing us to communicate effectively with our families, they have taken those rights away from us.”

North Lake is a private facility owned and managed by the Florida-based GEO Group on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. A group of around a dozen Black men have been confined to the RHU since March, following a fight in which they were not involved. This is the fifth hunger strike in which they have taken part over the last six months in response to racist repression, unacceptable living conditions and religious discrimination, and the sixth hunger strike to occur at North Lake overall in that time. Two people from the unit have been placed on suicide watch within the last month.

Strikers strongly suspect that Warden Emerson’s departure from the facility is connected to public awareness of their mistreatment and Emerson’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, yet they say the new warden is trying to make conditions even worse. “The warden has made changes with the phone. But it is her rules and not GEO’s rules,” another participant stated last week, referring to a new policy limiting those in the RHU to one 15-minute non-legal call every 30 days. “In the inmate handbook it states that inmates in general population and inmates in Administrative Detention should have the same privileges. The warden took away those privileges, and I have not done anything to lose those privileges.” (The inmate handbook for North Lake affirms: “To the extent practical, inmates in Administrative Segregation shall be provided with the same general privileges as inmates in general population.”)

“We’re demanding to be transferred; if they can’t transfer us, then to accommodate us in a way where we could deal with this a little bit better under the circumstances,” one of the men in the RHU said on Monday. “I feel like I do deserve the same rights as any other human, the same rights as any other prisoner across the country. Under no circumstances will I eat, unless they can accommodate us or get us out of here.”

“Our Time is Past Due”: Fifth Hunger Strike in the RHU at North Lake

“I know none of the Black individuals back here are eating, and I believe more than half of the Hispanic are not eating. Approximately I would say about 25 people right now. Between 25 to 30.”

In a phone call from Monday, August 10th, a participant explains the reasons for the new larger hunger strike in the Restricted Housing Unit at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, which has seen over two dozen people refuse to eat since last Wednesday night in response to cruel conditions imposed by the new acting warden, Angela Dunbar. This is the fifth hunger strike in the RHU and the sixth at North Lake overall since March 2020.

#FreeThemAll #ShutDownGEO

TRANSCRIPT:

“Initially there was only three inmates in the Restricted Housing Unit that wasn’t participating. Latinos as well as Black as well as white. Everybody’s on the hunger strike for the purpose of human rights violations. I think as of today, a few people eat, but the majority still are not eating. There’s a substantial amount of inmates—I know none of the Black individuals back here are eating, and I believe more than half of the Hispanic are not eating. Approximately I would say about 25 people right now. Between 25 to 30.

We have been here for over five months. That’s over 156 days and counting, we have been back here.

We was instructed that there are movements being made within the BOP—the Federal Bureau of Prisons is moving individuals, inmates—however, the inmates here at North Lake Correctional Facility are immigrants and ‘they are not a priority.’ We demand to be moved, and they told us that we can’t be moved. So our human rights have been compromised. But at the same time, the institution, instead of making some accommodations allowing us to communicate effectively with our families, and still keep communication—understanding what’s going on out there with them, knowing that we have other family members, we got kids, we got brothers, we got sisters, mothers, fathers that we need to touch base with, and friends, as well as friends—they have taken those rights away from us. To where they put us in a position to make a decision—whom to call but with one phone call a month.

The 14th Amendment of the United States guarantees us the same protections as any of the citizens of the United States. Because we were sentenced in the United States court, by a sentencing judge, and under United States Constitution, for violating United States statutes. Proper rehabilitation, proper reentry preparation, and proper programming to get us ready to reenter society—all of that has been taken away from us, just simply because we was Black. And now, furthermore, the family time—that has been taken away from us. Because not only can we not receive any visitation at this time, due to the COVID-19, but you’re taking the conversation away from us and our families, being able to communicate with our kids. That’s wrong. All we’re asking for is to communicate effectively with our families, know that they’re OK, and for them to know that we’re OK, while we wait this thing out. That has been taken away from us.

So we’re demanding to be transferred; if they can’t transfer us, then to accommodate us in a way where we could deal with this a little bit better under the circumstances. Because we have—our time is past due, sir. It is not past due by three days, it is not past due by five days. It’s past due by almost three months. We’ve almost doubled the amount of time that the law says we’re supposed to be in the Restricted Housing Unit.

I feel like I do deserve the same rights as any other human, the same rights as any other prisoner across the country. For that purpose and that reason only, I will not eat until they accommodate and understand our situation and the position that we’re in.

I need to speak to my kids; I need to speak to my grandmother; I need to speak to my father; I need to speak to my grandfather; I need to speak to my brother effectively, and I need to fight my case effectively. All those have been taken away from us. They’re retaliating by giving us unnecessary write-ups and incident reports, they’re trying everything that they can to get us to eat. But I will be honest with you, that under no circumstances will I eat, unless they can accommodate us or get us out of here.”