Backers of detention center bill race against clock

As Illinois lawmakers try to adjourn by Thursday, supporters of a bill that would block a proposed Chicago-area immigrant detention facility try to clear their last legislative hurdle.

May 29, 2012

Download Story View Transcript

Supporters of an Illinois bill that would block a proposed Chicago-area immigrant detention center are racing against the clock as lawmakers try to adjourn for the summer by Thursday.

The measure, SB1064, would ban government agencies at the local and state level from contracting with private firms to construct or run civil detention centers. It would broaden a decades-old Illinois ban on privately built or operated state prisons and county jails.

It would also scuttle a proposal for south suburban Crete to contract with Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America to build and run a 788-bed facility that would hold detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Senate approved the bill March 28. The House Executive Committee followed suit May 2. Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said he would sign the measure if it reached his desk.

But the bill’s House sponsors, led by Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), have not lined up the 60 votes they would need to ensure a win on the floor of their chamber.

“We’re close,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, who is lobbying for the measure.

The bill could get caught in a legislative logjam as lawmakers try to pass a state budget and get out of Springfield. The measure is also hitting some turbulence that crosses party lines. Some House members say they’ll oppose anything in the way of tougher immigration enforcement. Others are wary of upsetting unions whose members could help build and operate the Crete facility.

John Scheidt, president of the Will and Grundy County Building Trades Council, testified before the House committee that the project would bring 200 permanent jobs. “That would be almost $12 million in annual payroll that would be generated out of this facility,” Scheidt said.

Tsao’s group helped organize a protest late Friday at the district office of Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago), who accepts a lot of campaign funding from building-trades unions. “He told us in Springfield he opposes the bill because the project is a jobs generator,” Tsao said.

D’Amico did not return calls about the measure.

Crete officials have yet to approve the detention center but have touted the jobs as well as tax benefits and expected per-detainee payments to the village.

Those officials have gotten an earful from some Crete residents convinced that the facility would drag down their property values and stretch village resources. They’ve aligned with immigrant advocates who say CCA treats its detainees and workers poorly — a claim disputed by the company. The immigrant advocates also see the detention center as part of an enforcement push that has led to record numbers of deportations.

Crete residents almost got a chance to question immigration officials at a town-hall meeting that Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez were planning to host May 21 in a local school. But officials called off the gathering just hours in advance due to security concerns related to the NATO summit, they said. Rick Bryant, a Jackson aide, says the congressman’s office is talking with ICE in hopes of setting a June date for the meeting.