Crete pulls plug on plan for immigrant detention center
BY MATTHEW BRUCE Correspondent June 12, 2012 11:02AM
FILE - In this April 11, 2012 file photo, an anti-detention sign is seen outside a home in Crete, Ill. Officials in Crete voted unanimously Monday, June 11, 2012, to reject a plan to build an immigrant detention center in the village. Plans for the detention center had led to protests by Crete residents and immigrant rights activists. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Updated: July 14, 2012 6:26AM
A proposed immigrant detention center to be built in Crete was supposed to bring jobs, tax revenue and more humane treatment of detainees, project supporters said for months.
But there seemed to be a protest for every promise. And, Monday night, Crete officials pulled the plug, voting unanimously to withdraw the village from consideration as a site for a U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement facility.
Officials cited a lack of financial assurances for the decision after Crete officials met earlier Monday with officials of Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that was to build and operate the center for ICE.
Mayor Michael Einhorn said the company talked about paying the village a per diem fee based on the detainee population, but no figure was quoted until Monday.
“The number they spoke was not what the village felt was appropriate,” Einhorn said, declining to reveal any numbers.
“The comfort level wasn’t there,” village administrator Tom Durkin said. “We kind of nailed down that last piece of the puzzle, about what the financial expectations were.”
Einhorn had projected an additional $90,000 per year in state reimbursements from a population increase from counting detainees, and a $1 million annual boost for Crete-Monee School District 201U from property tax revenue. He has no immediate answer to how the village will fill the economic development void.
“There is nothing that will bring what this could have brought,” Einhorn said Tuesday. “We are in tough times now. We are not making that up. In the not-too-distant future there will be a day of reckoning. We may wish we had that money.”
Einhorn did not have to cast a vote on the issue but said he would have voted with the rest of his board.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” he said. “This is not a simple black-and-white issue.”
While none of the board members thought it was inappropriate to detain those who are here illegally, there were concerns about CCA, the center’s impact on property values and the image of being a “prison town,” he said.
Opponents also had raised concerns about security and the cost to taxpayers if there were a riot like one involving about 300 inmates that erupted last month at a CCA-run prison in Mississippi. A prison guard died, and nine were injured in that incident.
Marimonica Murray, who lives within walking distance of the proposed site, said residents on hand Monday night were pleasantly surprised that Crete officials turned down the project.
“It took a minute to dawn on everybody,” she said. “Then there was plenty of clapping, and (cheering), and hugging.”
Murray, who was active in the Concerned Citizens of Crete, whose efforts included collecting about 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing the center, said she planned to move her family out of Illinois if the center were built.
“It was a very big effort, and it took a lot of work,” she said. “I’m so amazed and so pleased and grateful that people from other communities recognized that the impact was far and wide, and beyond Crete. It really wasn’t just a Crete issue. It’s something I think we can pretty much say was an Illinois issue.”
Monday’s vote came nearly a year after officials acknowledged the village had been selected as a tentative site for the center. The village and CCA had submitted a proposal to ICE in November 2010, according to Durkin.
Village officials plan to release a full report disclosing the steps taken in evaluating the project, Durkin said.
Immigrants’ rights activists also participated in marches and protests alongside Crete residents, some saying they were against companies profiting from “people suffering” and others against deportation altogether.
That drew the attention of state lawmakers, and a bill that would have taken the decision out of Crete’s hands by banning private companies from operating detention centers in Illinois narrowly lost in the House after clearing the Senate.
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights), who voted for the ban, said he was glad Crete leaders finally decided officially where they stand.
“The pulse of the people was to reject the project,” DeLuca said.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) also had vigorously opposed the detention center. He had planned a town hall meeting on the issue May 21 — the second day of the NATO summit in Chicago — but cancelled it due to security concerns.
He said Tuesday the detention center would have forever changed Crete’s small-town feel and driven away developers.
“It was clear to me, and it became increasingly clear to everybody, that a detention center and Crete were not a good fit,” he said. “This is how democracy was designed to work. The people spoke. And the government listened.”
CCA officials didn’t see it that way.
“This outcome is of course disappointing to the taxpayers, job seekers and local businesses that stood to benefit from this economic boost,” company spokesman Steve Owen wrote in an email. “Despite a lengthy due diligence process and a number of previous meetings, including one Monday with village officials, terms simply could not be reached that would have been mutually agreeable to all parties.”
Officials planned to build the 775-bed facility, which would have housed low-risk illegal immigrants as they awaited deportation, at a three-acre undeveloped site along Hartmann Drive just south of Burville Road.
ICE officials now will look at other potential sites for a center, spokesman Shawn Neudauer said.
“ICE will review the proposals received from other local governments as part of its next steps,” he said.
Contributing: Susan DeMar Lafferty