Human Rights Advocates Alarmed by ICE Request To Expand St. Paul Detention Center

Freeborn, Ramsey, Nobles, Sherburne and Carver counties house detainees from five states: Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Human-rights advocates in Minnesota are responding angrily to a notice saying St. Paul is on the list of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices where the agency is looking to expand detention space. 

Lawyers who work with undocumented immigrants say they already are overwhelmed and unable to represent the majority of people ICE detains. 

Michele Garnett Mckenzie, the deputy director of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, says federal immigration policy is headed in the wrong direction.

“Back in the 1980s, we detained fewer than 50 people per day,” she said. “Today we have 45,000 people per day in ICE custody. Massive expansion of that infrastructure, that a request for information signals, will be continuing to grow.”

14 groups oppose expansion

The Advocates for Human Rights was one of 14 groups that signed a letter to ICE objecting to the proposed expansion. Besides St. Paul, ICE proposed expanding detention capacity through centers in Salt Lake City, Detroit and Chicago.

Garnett Mckenzie says jails in five Minnesota counties currently provide beds for hundreds of detainees.

“Our county public safety agencies are there to protect us and keep us safe, not to make money off federal contracts,” she adds. “This is something that I think Minnesotans can weigh in on and need to be taking a look at as we are expecting additional outreach by ICE for more and more capacity.”

Garnett McKenzie and others say detention is the most costly and least humane way to treat people suspected of being in the country illegally. In Minnesota, only 21 percent of those detained are able to find or afford lawyers, although she says all of them need and deserve legal representation.

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