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Crete leader slams Chicago immigrant activists

Marchers arrive Sunday afternoon in Crete after a three-day trek from Chicago. (WBEZ/Charlie Billups)

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The leader of a Chicago suburb where a private company wants to build an immigrant detention center says he and other town officials are having a hard time gauging public support for the plan because Chicago-based protesters have come in and whipped people “into a frenzy.”

“I’m not responsible to the people of Little Village,” said Crete President Michael Einhorn, referring to a heavily immigrant Chicago neighborhood where a three-day march against the proposal began Friday. “I’m not responsible for anybody else except the people who live inside the boundaries of this town.

“But the outside interference and the outside noise has made it extremely difficult for any municipal official to develop a clear and concise feeling for how the people we are responsible for are feeling because the people who are in favor of it are not beating my door down and putting signs in their yard,” Einhorn said.

The proposal is for Crete, a village 30 miles from downtown Chicago, to contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to build and run the detention center. The 788-bed facility would hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees awaiting deportation.

Einhorn and other village officials have talked up the project’s expected jobs and tax benefits as well as an opportunity for Crete to receive per-detainee payments. But the village has yet to negotiate a contract with the company or approve the facility.

Crete President Michael Einhorn talks up the proposal’s expected jobs and the payments the village would receive for each detainee. (WBEZ/Charlie Billups)

The 40 marchers increased their numbers over the three days. By Sunday afternoon, when they reached a rural Crete parcel proposed for the project, their ranks had swelled to about 250. They ranged from seasoned immigrant advocates to youths donning handkerchief masks, self-described anarchists, Mexican-born mothers pushing strollers and longtime Crete residents fretting about their property values and whether the village would share liability for the facility’s operations.

Some Crete residents voiced concerns beyond their own interests. Warehouse company owner Thomas Tynan, 63, said the detention center proposal should call attention to a federal policy of deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants a year. “There needs to be a way that people who come to this country and want to work and want to become citizens can do that,” he said.

Tynan even likened immigrant detention centers to concentration camps during World War II. “If I was living then, what would I do?” he asked. “This is an opportunity for people to show what they would do.”

The Crete proposal is part of an ICE push to improve conditions in immigrant detention centers. That push follows a series of alleged human rights abuses in ICE facilities, including some run by CCA, the Nashville company.

On the site of the proposed detention center, Crete resident Dan Taylor says the facility would hurt the village’s finances. (WBEZ/Charlie Billups)

Illinois state senators last Wednesday approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Antonio Muñoz (D-Chicago) that aims to block the Crete plan. The measure, Senate Bill 1064, 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 bill would broaden an Illinois statute banning privately built or operated state prisons and county jails.

The bill’s supporters acknowledge that Illinois cannot stop the federal government from contracting directly with private entities to build or run a detention center in the state.

After the measure’s Senate approval, Reps. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) and Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) introduced the House version. Its supporters say they will push for quick passage when the legislature returns from a recess April 17.

Some House Republicans are vowing to oppose the measure. Neither House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) nor Gov. Pat Quinn has taken a stand on it.

See many more images of the march to Crete and village President Michael Einhorn at photographer Charlie Billups’ site.

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