Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is no longer backing plans for a controversial immigrant detention center proposed for the Indiana city.
GEO Group wants to build an immigrant detention facility near the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
Freeman-Wilson had previously supported the project because of the jobs and other economic benefits that could come with it.
She dropped her support for the detention center late Wednesday, saying that "the detention of individuals is not consistent with what I fought for in terms of civil and human rights."
Freeman-Wilson formerly served as the Indiana Attorney General and the director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.
"I understand that it has to be done. I understand that there are folks who certainly ought to be deported but I just didn't think that was the type of economic development we wanted to see in the city of Gary," Freeman-Wilson added, reported WBEZ.
Freeman-Wilson's decision to pull her support for the proposal came after activists protested the project at Gary's Zoning Board meeting on Tuesday. Zoning officials ended up rescheduling the hearing on the proposal, which is now slated for November 23.
The National Immigrant Justice Center is among the organizations commending Freeman-Wilson for withdrawing her support for the project. The group issued this statement:
Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Indiana, who last night withdrew her support for the construction of an 800-bed immigration detention facility by private, for-profit prison company GEO Group. Her decision was in response to strong opposition by community groups including the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, Black Lives Matter, and the Mass Incarceration + GEO Halt Team (MIGHT), who last year defeated a similar proposal in the nearby city of Hobart.
NIJC is grateful for these groups' powerful work to protect families and defend the rights of immigrants and other communities of color who have been disproportionately targeted by the private prison industry and the U.S. justice system's harmful overreliance on incarceration. We are mindful that this fight is not over until GEO drops its proposal and that GEO will continue to seek new locations to build prisons. We hope that local leaders will follow the moral leadership of Mayor Freeman-Wilson and others who have rejected private prisons, recognizing that our communities are strongest when we invest in systems that uphold human rights rather than profit off of oppression and the destruction of families.
NIJC, which provides legal services to hundreds of immigrants in Northwest Indiana, is proud to have been among the chorus of voices at the November 9 zoning board meeting demanding that the City of Gary reject the proposed prison. NIJC calls on the zoning board to reject petitions by the GEO Group, a company with a troubling record of mistreatment of the people in its custody and its workers. With Gary residents' and the mayor's opposition now apparent, the board must bring a formal conclusion to the GEO Group's efforts to profit from the separation of families and incarceration of refugees, asylum-seekers, and other immigrants.