Crete trustees reject detention center plan

June 11, 2012

Updated with reactions from ICE and an immigrant advocate June 12 at 4:47 p.m.

After months of rancor among its leaders and residents, a Chicago suburb has rejected a plan by the country’s largest private prison operator to build and run an immigrant detention center.

A unanimous voice vote of Crete’s six trustees Monday night ended village negotiations with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. The vote came just hours after an unsuccessful negotiating session between Crete and CCA officials. Village President Michael Einhorn said the vote blocks the project “as of now.”

The decision thrilled residents who have campaigned against the plan since last fall. “When lots of little people get together, it’s possible that the big guns will listen,” said Marimonica Murray, a leader of the group Concerned Citizens of Crete, which led opposition to the detention center.

Under the proposal, Crete would have contracted with CCA, which would have owned the medium-security facility and held more than 700 foreign nationals awaiting deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Crete officials say they first learned about the project from CCA in 2010. ICE announced last summer that the federal agency had “tentatively selected” Crete for the facility.

Village officials touted the potential for scores of permanent jobs. They also talked up expected taxes and per-detainee payments for the village.

But the proposal met stiff resistance from Crete residents worried that the detention center would drag down property values, stretch village services too thin and threaten public safety. Those residents aligned with immigrant advocates who said CCA treated its detainees and workers poorly. The company disputed those claims.

Illinois legislation that would have derailed the project sailed through the Senate in March. The bill would have banned government agencies at the local and state levels from contracting with private firms to build or run civil detention centers. A close House floor vote last month defeated the measure.

After Crete trustees turned down the planned detention center, a written statement from company spokesman Steven Owen called the outcome “disappointing to the taxpayers, job seekers and local businesses that stood to benefit from this economic boost.” The statement said the company “will continue to work closely with ICE in meeting their needs in the region.”

A statement Tuesday from President Barack Obama’s administration says ICE will review proposals for a detention center elsewhere in the Chicago area. The statement says a facility would help improve the confinement conditions and “allow for some consolidation of detainees closer to their place of apprehension and immigration proceedings.”

Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the administration instead ought to use its Crete setback as an opportunity to allow more immigration violators to remain in their homes. “Why is ICE keeping these thousands of people in detention at great expense to taxpayers when many of these individuals pose no threat to the community?” Tsao asked.