Proposal to ban private detention centers stumbles

A plan to block an immigrant facility near Chicago fails in a series of close Illinois House votes.

May 31, 2012

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Updated Friday, June 1, at 12:30 a.m.

A bill that would have blocked an immigrant detention center near Chicago failed Thursday in a series of close Illinois House floor votes as lawmakers raced to adjourn for the summer.

Parliamentary moves by the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), kept the bill alive late into the evening. In one roll call, the measure came within one vote of the 60 needed for passage. A 57-58 roll call, with two members voting present, defeated the bill.

The legislation would have banned government agencies at the local and state levels from contracting with private firms to build or run civil detention centers. It would have thwarted a proposal for Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to construct and operate a 788-bed facility in the village of Crete, a suburb 30 miles south of Chicago. The facility would hold detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago) pushed the bill, SB1064, through the Senate in March. Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said he would sign the measure if it reached his desk. 

As the House took it up, however, Springfield-based Dorgan-McPike & Associates lobbied hard for CCA. Other opposition to the measure came from immigration enforcement proponents and building-trades unions eager for the Crete project’s construction jobs.

The bill’s supporters countered with an amendment aimed at winning votes from downstate representatives. The amendment would have allowed Tri-County Justice and Detention Center to keep its private operator, Paladin Eastside Psychological Services. That facility, located in Ullin, holds ICE detainees.

During a 25-minute House floor debate on the bill Thursday afternoon, Acevedo pointed out that the Crete construction jobs would be temporary and that the project’s permanent jobs could come at the expense of facilities that hold ICE detainees in other parts of Illinois.

“The people of Crete, who you would think would be the most eager for these jobs, overwhelmingly do not want this facility,” Acevedo said. “They see the facility will place huge burdens on the community — traffic, police and other costs — as well as abuse that a private prison company could bring.”

Acevedo pointed to a deadly riot this month at CCA-operated Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi.

But Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) brought up Indiana, an Illinois neighbor that allows CCA to operate a county jail in Indianapolis. “Isn’t it possible that if we do pass this law that this company could simply go into Indiana — locate the same facility and house the same detainees we would in Crete — just across the border?”

A written statement from CCA spokesman Mike Machak called the bill’s failure “an important step in realizing the Obama administration’s vision for detention, which provides detainees awaiting civil proceedings with a humane and appropriate environment.”

The bill’s supporters offered a different interpretation. “This was a David and Goliath fight,” Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said in a statement. “Though we were able to add new Republican votes, many Democrats showed deep disrespect for the immigrant families in their own districts.”

Crete officials have yet to approve the detention center but have touted the jobs potential. They have also talked up expected taxes and per-detainee payments for the village.