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Big crowd wants no part of proposed immigrant center

Abel Sanchez 22 Joliet holds sign against proposed Joliet immigrant prisas people arrive for town hall meeting December 13 2012

Abel Sanchez, 22, of Joliet, holds a sign against the proposed Joliet immigrant prison as people arrive for a town hall meeting December 13, 2012, at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Social Hall in Joliet. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 15, 2013 11:49AM



Speakers stirred up a crowd of about 300 people on Thursday night to fight any attempt to bring to an immigrant detention center to Joliet.

The big turnout and broadening group of opponents signaled that the anti-detention center movement is building even as city hall continues to emphasize there has been no commitment by the federal government to bring the facility here. It would be privately operated and hold illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.

Anti-detention center signs, which have been popping up on lawns across Joliet, were on sale at the meeting. And a petition, which has been signed by 3,000 people so far, was being passed around and will eventually be delivered to city hall.

“We’re black, brown and white, and we’re all in this together,” Craig Purchase, the black pastor of Mount Zion Tabernacle Church called out to a cheering, mostly Hispanic crowd at one point.

Pastors from several churches came to the community meeting at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Several Catholic priests were in the room, and one of the first speakers was Tom Garlitz, director of the Joliet Diocese’s Office for Human Dignity.

“The threat to human dignity we face this evening is the for-profit immigrant prison for Joliet,” Garlitz said.

Also in the audience was city manager Thomas Thanas, who has been most closely identified with the issue because he has been exploring the possibility of bringing in the center, which would be similar to one that was rejected this year in Crete.

The crowd gave Thanas a friendly round of applause when he was introduced. But they cheered louder when speakers directed their opposition to the project to him by name.

“No way Jose! No way Mr. Thanas!” Joliet resident David Velazquez exclaimed, drawing a standing ovation, after he had essentially described any paychecks or tax dollars the center might generate as dirty money.

Three city council members — Larry Hug, Terry Morris and Robert O’Dekirk — attended the meeting and sat with Thanas during the speeches that repeatedly condemned the idea of bringing in such a center, which would be run by Corrections Corporation of America.

“I ask Mr. Thanas, please stop all negotiations with CCA immediately,” Joliet community organizer Angel Contreras said in closing remarks that again drew loud applause.

Asked after the meeting about Contreras’ request, Thanas answered, “There are no negotiations.”

Thanas has said repeatedly that while he has talked with CCA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials about bringing the center to Joliet, ICE has not indicated where it might turn next for a Chicago-area location after being rejected in Crete.

Thanas said he told coordinators of the event that he would be available to speak if asked, but he was not asked to do so.

“I would have talked about how the energy that is in this room is misdirected. It really needs to be directed at immigration reform,” he said. “I think it’s very focused on a project that may or may not materialize.”

But many of the opponents are against deportation of undocumented immigrants and equate the detention center issue with immigration reform.

“With all due respect to the (city) manager and the city council, this is an immigration issue,” Velazquez said.

Bernie Kopera, who was a leader against the plan in Crete, said it was important to start an opposition movement early.

“Political leaders (in Crete) had been negotiating with CCA for months, and we were lucky to find out about it,” Kopera said.

Joliet’s interest in the project leaked out in late October after Thanas told the city council in a closed session that he was traveling to Washington, D.C., to talk about the detention center with ICE officials.

Thanas has noted that other Chicago-area communities are in the same position as Joliet as they, too, explore the possibility of hosting the detention center.



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