Planned immigrant detention center roils Crete

Some south suburban residents and the area’s Democratic candidates for Congress condemn a planned 750-bed facility. But the village says it will bring jobs and property tax revenue.

January 10, 2012

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Gary and Joyce Freudenberg.Opposition to an immigrant detention center planned for south suburban Crete appears to be growing. About 150 area residents overflowed a Crete Township Hall meeting room Monday night to hear from critics of the project.

In recent days, meanwhile, both candidates in a tough Democratic primary battle for the area’s U.S. House seat have come out against the plan.

Immigrant advocates who led the meeting said federal officials are planning a medium-security facility holding foreign nationals awaiting deportation. The speakers voiced concern about the detainees’ human rights.

Crete residents raised their own issues. “We don’t have a fire department or police department here that can service that,” retiree Robert Hughes said after the meeting. “And if I ever go to sell my house again, who’s going to want to buy my house? I’ll be living three blocks away from the prison.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced last summer that the agency had “tentatively selected” Crete for the facility, which would be run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. ICE on Monday sent a statement that says the village, the federal government and CCA are still working on details. “If and when a formal selection occurs, the appropriate notifications will be made,” the statement says.

Hughes and other Crete residents accused the village of trying to keep the plan a secret.

Village Administrator Tom Durkin said Crete officials learned about the 750-bed project from CCA in November 2010. He said the village board would hold a hearing before approving the plan: “It’s premature to bring anything to the public yet because, at this point, it’s an idea. It’s not a real project at this point.”

Durkin said the center would be built on farmland just southeast of Burville Road and Main Street, an intersection less than a mile from Crete Village Hall. He said the facility would generate property taxes and create more than 150 jobs.

The Democratic primary candidates include Debbie Halvorson, a Crete resident and former U.S. representative who announced her position on the detention center in a WBEZ interview after Monday night’s meeting.

“The fact that it’s being privately built and managed is one of the problems,” Halvorson said. “We’ve got 12 million people here illegally, they’re not going away, and we can’t keep building more detention centers.”

Halvorson’s stand followed a Friday statement from the incumbent, Jesse Jackson, Jr. “I don’t want the south suburbs to become famous for prisons and for breaking up families,” the statement says.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misquoted Crete Village Administrator Tom Durkin regarding the amount of property taxes the project could generate.