Joliet eyed for immigration detention center
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2012 9:44AM
Father Ray Lescher, Pastor Sacred Heart Church, writes a note for John Scheidt as he and latino groups protest trade council support for immigrant detention center proposed for Crete outside the Will County Carpenters Local 174 Welfare & Pension Funds offices in Joliet, Illinois, Monday, May 21, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:47AM
JOLIET — An immigration detention center would have a “very positive impact” in Joliet, Joliet’s city manager said Thursday. But one immigrant rights group already is mounting opposition to the idea, which government officials have been trying to keep out of public view.
City Manager Thomas Thanas acknowledged there is an “exploratory project” to put a detention center for immigrants facing deportation in Joliet. A plan to locate the same kind of facility in Crete was turned down in June amid public opposition.
Joliet, which has one closed prison and has another slated to be shut down, could be more receptive.
Hispanics in Joliet, however, opposed the Crete project and are likely to have the same objections here. A statewide immigration group on Thursday was starting to mount an opposition campaign to any attempt to bring the detention center to Joliet.
Thanas said the project, because it would be privately owned and operated, would bring tax revenue and jobs to the city.
“From my perspective it’s a project that has a very positive impact in the community where it’s located,” Thanas said Thursday. “It’s a major project that creates hundreds of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs that are consistent with what we want to see in economic development in Joliet.”
The city, however, has kept the controversial project away from public view. Thanas said there has not been a commitment from either the city or federal officials to try to bring the detention center to Joliet.
“I think there’s a lot of information that has to be developed,” Thanas said. “We’re nowhere near a decision either at the local level with the city or at the federal level with the agency involved.”
There was intense opposition to the proposal in Crete, with complaints that the public was not getting enough information. In Joliet, the city council heard about the matter last week during a closed-door session, and most city officials would not talk about it when called by The Herald-News.
“I don’t have a comment about it right now,” said Mayor Thomas Giarrante, who blamed “a leak” from the city council for news of the project getting out.
Councilwoman Susie Barber said the council has made no commitments about the project.
“I think we’re just looking at it right now and talking about it and trying to feel people out about their feelings,” Barber said. “It’s not going anywhere until we talk about it some more.”
Other council members would not comment or did not return phone calls about the matter.
“This was exactly the problem we had in Crete,” said Jesse Hoyt, a suburban community organizer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “A lot of the discussion was behind closed doors, and the public was left out.”
Hoyt said candidates who attend a forum Monday night at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, which has a large Hispanic membership, will be asked where they stand on the question of bringing the detention center to Joliet.
One concern, Hoyt said, is the track record of Corrections Corp. of America, the Tennessee-based company that would have operated the detention center in Crete. He said the company has a “record of mistreating the detainees and providing poor training for the men and women who work there.”
A company spokesman in a written statement would not comment on the Joliet situation but said the company continues to work with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the Chicago region and referred questions to the agency.
The agency would not answer specific questions either, but issued a statement saying in part that a new detention facility in the Chicago area would improve conditions of confinement “by locating detainees closer to where they are apprehended so that they can be near their families, community resources and the ICE field office.”
Elizabeth Nevarez, executive director of the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, which provides immigration services, said the organization has not taken a position on the detention center. But speaking only for herself, Nevarez said, she objects to the facility and said Hispanics in Joliet will likely oppose any plan to bring it here.
“When the Crete detention center was being proposed, the Joliet Hispanic community did oppose it,” she said. “They went to Crete.”
Thanas said he did not know if other locations in the Chicago region were being considered for the center.
He said if the center were to come to Joliet it would not be housed in either the closed Joliet Correctional Center on Collins Street or the Illinois Youth Center on McDonough Street, which Gov. Pat Quinn plans to close.
Thanas said a new facility would be built at a location to be determined. But it would not be near homes, schools or commercial areas, he said.