The highly anticipated meeting at Granite Ridge where North East residents expected to finally get some answers from Jonathan Ehrenfeld and Culmen International about the proposed housing of illegal immigrants on the campus, gave us a slightly clearer picture of what an influx care center would look like, but brought no commitments of any sort. The speakers were Brenton Davis, Erie County Executive who opened the meeting, Bill Unger, Granite Ridge property manager, Jonathan Ehrenfeld of the Ehrenfeld companies, owner of Granite Ridge and Danial Berkon of Culmen International. Attendance was standing room only and estimated at around 200 or more.
Repeated statements from the speakers that no contract has been signed, no request from the government has been received, no firm decision about whether Granite Ridge would go ahead with the proposal, no idea of how many migrants would be housed there if they did proceed, in fact very few clear answers of any sort, left everyone even more frustrated with all of the parties involved.
What did we learn?
Daniel Berkon of Culmen International described the facility as a place for migrants anywhere from 0 to 17 years of age, but was quickly corrected by Amanda Steeneck who said the ORR website stated it was for migrants 13-17 years of age. Berkon said they were required to have 6 hours of classroom education, 1 hour of physical education and 3 meals per day with at least 60 square feet of space provided for each individual. All migrants would be restricted to the facility property 24 hours a day for a maximum of 30 days.
There would be one adult supervisor for each 8 migrants and unarmed security on the grounds. The entire property would be surrounded by a visually opaque security fence of undetermined height, though numbers from 6 to 12 feet were mentioned without any definite answer. This fence would supposedly keep teenage boys confined to the property, but as pointed out by one resident, her 6 foot tall son could scale that easily, so there’s some question as to how effective it would be. There would be checkpoints where entry and exit to the facility would be possible. Medical care would be provided on site, but North East resources would be called in case of a fire.
When asked to explain the expected large local economic benefit from the hundreds of jobs the site would provide, Ehrenfeld admitted the majority would be low pay migrant supervisors, food service, house keeping or custodial positions. High pay and high skill jobs would be far fewer and could be filled from anywhere.
As noted here before, it is hard to understand how anyone could have purchased this property without first having a plan to develop it in a profitable manner, but the justification Ehrenfeld gives for looking at a large, campus wide development like an influx care center is that they can’t seem to find any other way to earn an income beyond the rental apartments they already have.
It was interesting when late in the meeting, Representative Jake Banta stood up and asked the crowd for a quick referendum by a show of hands, asking who in the crowd was against this proposed use of the campus. It appeared to be unanimous. Jonathon Ehrenfeld said he understands and accepts that, but, tellingly, he didn’t say he cared or would rule out doing it anyway.
An economic and social disaster for North East
If you can picture completely encircling the Granite Ridge property with a high, opaque security fence and entry checkpoints, it quickly tells you we’re looking at the installation of what is essentially a prison in the center of town. Picture yourself driving by what used to be a beautiful campus, now obscured by that fence. Think of the property values of everyone nearby, especially those facing the campus, it’s likely to fall to zero. Think of the impression it will make on visitors coming into town for the Cherry Festival. Think of the likely damage to the property from migrants passing through for 30 days who will have no respect for the facility they’re being detained in. Think of the lack of respect for our entire community being shown by the owners of Granite Ridge.
A migrant influx care facility would be a disaster for North East. We don’t need it, we don’t want it and the hundreds of residents at the meeting made that very clear to Jonathan Ehrenfeld, Bill Unger and Brenton Davis. Will they listen? We’ll be watching closely to find out.