PI Original Matthew Blake Friday April 6th, 2012, 10:07am

State Legislation Could Halt Federal Immigrant Detention Center

A bill in Springfield could preempt a proposed federal immigrant detention center in the Chicago south suburb of Crete.

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A bill in Springfield could preempt a proposed federal immigrant detention center in the Chicago south suburb of Crete.

Immigration advocates and state lawmakers have seized on the fact that the civil detention facility would be privately operated by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA – an issue that could effectively thwart a detention center that federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the village of Crete have been working on since 2010.

“Regardless of how you feel about immigration this is about a private company taking over a public function,” says Fred Tsao, policy director at the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill last week sponsored by assistant majority leader Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago), 34-17, which places a moratorium on for-profit companies operating civil detention centers. The state already has a moratorium on for-profit prisons.

The bill was introduced in the House last week and referred to the rules committee before lawmakers adjourned for spring recess until April 17.

Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for ICE’s Midwest Office, said that the federal agency does not comment on pending legislation. Calls to Crete Mayor Michael Einhorn were not returned.

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), a House co-sponsor of the bill, says that she is confident the measure will pass the House as easily as it cleared the Senate. “Questions will be asked in committee because of the media attention recently received,” Hernandez says. “But for right now, I think it should go through swiftly.”

If the bill passes the House, Gov. Pat Quinn would sign it, according to spokeswoman Annie Thompson.

“Governor Quinn has previously stated that he does not support the idea of an immigration detention center in Crete,” Thompson said in a statement. “The Governor is supportive of this legislation should it arrive on his desk.”

Quinn has previously tangled with ICE, including withdrawing Illinois from the federal “Secure Communities” immigrant detention program.

Hernandez says there is no mistaking the moratorium’s aim. “The bill is to make sure Crete will not happen,” Hernandez says.

Under the Obama administration, ICE detains and deports undocumented immigrants at a faster rate than they had under George W. Bush's administration. A Crete facility, slated to hold 700 to 750 detainees, looks like another part of Obama’s accelerated detention and deportation policy, though ICE contends it is a humane alternative to criminal facilities.

ICE approached Crete, population 9,000, in late 2010 about entering into an intergovernmental contract with the village for CCA to build and operate the facility. In the summer of 2011, ICE tentatively selected the village to be the site of the CCA operated facility.

ICE documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune last month revealed that all but 52 of the more than 700 detainee beds would be for male detainees, and also that the proposed facility featured a law library, two gyms, computers and TVs.

Crete officials promote the facility as creating jobs and improving the village tax base.

But an opposition group, Concerned Citizens of Crete, emerged and there is an ongoing public input process.

Protesters marched 31 miles from the largely Latino Little Village neighborhood in Chicago to Crete this past weekend to protest the facility. Also, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Chicago) 2nd District was redrawn to include Crete and the lawmaker opposes the detention center.

Opponents are confident that they can enforce the potential state law against anticipated opposition from federal ICE – because the village of Crete is subject to state law.

“ICE does not choose to directly contract with CCA,” Tsao explains. “Instead, it contracts with local government bodies and local governments are subject to state jurisdiction.”

As for the merits of the facility, Montenegro argues that the civil detention center is a “sensible reform” to Midwest detention practices, particularly since it establishes a Chicago area facility.

“ICE seeks to house detainees, whenever possible, within the geographical area of their arrest,” Montenegro wrote in an e-mail, adding that ICE is “realigning detainee resources to keep detainees closer to families and legal resources.”

Facility opponents circle back to the fact that the center will be privately operated.

“Privatization just removes accountability from the facility,” Tsao says. “The profit motive gives companies every incentive to lower costs.”

Image: AP

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