Senate OKs bill blocking Crete detention center

The Illinois measure would scuttle a proposed Corrections Corporation of America facility in a suburb south of Chicago. But the bill’s House prospects are unclear.

March 29, 2012

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(AP file/Mel Evans)
CCA, the largest contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, runs the Elizabeth Detention Facility in New Jersey.

The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved a bill aimed at blocking an immigrant detention center proposed for south suburban Crete, but the measure could face rougher going in the House.

Passed by a 34-17 vote, SB1064 would make Illinois one of the nation’s first states to ban local governments and state agencies from contracting with private companies to build or run civil detention centers. The measure would expand a state law banning privately constructed or operated state prisons and county jails.

The proposal in Crete is for the village to contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to build and run a 788-bed facility that would hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.

Crete officials have talked up the project’s expected jobs and tax benefits but have yet to approve the facility. Some village residents are rallying against it, saying it would hurt their community. The residents have aligned with immigrant-rights advocates who say CCA has provided poor conditions for its ICE detainees in other parts of the country.

“When you introduce the profit motive into corrections and detention, what you end up doing is ratcheting down conditions for detainees and for workers,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which is pushing the bill. ICIRR last year shepherded into law a measure that set up a state commission to oversee privately funded college scholarships for undocumented immigrants.

CCA disputes criticism about its detainee treatment. On its website, the company says its employees adhere “to the highest standards in corrections.”

Crete Village Administrator Tom Durkin said he hadn’t seen the Senate bill and declined to comment.

An ICE spokesman said his agency does not comment on proposed legislation.

Tsao acknowledged that Illinois would not be able to stop the federal government from contracting with private entities to build or run a detention center in the state. “What Illinois can do,” he said, “is control what the state itself does and what its political subdivisions — counties, townships and municipalities — do.”

In the House, the bill’s prospects are unclear.

“It’ll have difficulty if it ties the hands of the federal government in enforcing immigration law,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley). Pritchard voted against the scholarships measure.

Rep. Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream) said the detention-center bill sounded like a bad idea. He vowed to help lead House opposition to it and predicted that many downstate Democrats would be on his side. Last year Ramey introduced an ill-fated bill modeled after a controversial Arizona crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) “probably has no position on the bill yet,” his spokesman Steve Brown said after the Senate vote. “I haven’t heard it discussed.”

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said he would not take a stand until the measure reached his desk. “It still has to go through the House,” Quinn aide Annie Thompson pointed out. “The governor will have to take a look at the bill he receives.”