By Alyse Shields
JCUA Intern, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago
Emotions remain high in the south suburban village of Crete, the site of a proposed federal detention center.
Another 100 people attended at the latest Crete Village Board meeting held Jan. 23. The small room overflowed with residents, most standing against every available wall, eager to have their questions answered.
I attended the meeting as a representative of JCUA and the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants.
Village Administrator Thomas Durkin opened the meeting by offering responses to questions that residents have been asking about the project. His mundane and perfunctory answers added little insight. Meanwhile, as Durkin spoke, a crowd of impassioned citizens outside the chamber chanted “No Crete Detention Center!”
When the floor was opened to the 70 people who could fit inside the room, residents question the lack of transparency, the impact such a center would have on the town’s economy and property values, and why Crete would take on a project it does not have the resources to support.
Mayor Michael Einhorn’s response was that there has been nothing to share and that village officials still have “homework to do” regarding potential impact. Einhorn said he believes, based on a conversation with a representative of Corrections Corporation of America, that the project will bring economic benefit. CCA is a private company that builds detention facilities on contract for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Opponents of proposed construction came away from the meeting saying that when a decision such as this one is being made, “homework” should be done ahead of time, and the public, who will be impacted, should be part of the decision.
Many of the residents told the mayor that Crete should be given other avenues of economic development instead of a prison that could be partially empty due to potentially changing immigration policies.
One man said he did not want to make money off the misfortunes of immigrant families.
“I’m not here to discuss those matters,” Einhorn responded.
The evening was filled with elusive and at times contradictory statements from village officials regarding the nature of the arrangement between CCA, ICE and Crete. Many questions remained unanswered.
Attitudes and emotions in Crete have changed. Last September, I spoke with the mayor about the center. He was quite positive about the proposal. Now, after this week’s meeting he told one reporter that he is undecided on the issue. While our aim is not ambiguity, it’s a start.
The Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants includes 8th Day Center for Justice, Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Office for Immigrant Affairs & Immigration Education of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, Sisters of Mercy, Southwest Organizing Project and West Suburban Action Project – PASO.
The committee is planning to hold another meeting in the near future. Residents of Crete and neighboring communities will be invited.
Media coverage of the Jan. 23 meeting:
- Immigration policy part of concern — some worry about property values if facility is built [with video] (Chicago Tribune)
- Proposed Immigrant Detention Center Stirs Debate In Crete (CBS2 Chicago)
- Large crowd objects to detention center in Crete (Southtown Star)
- Kadner: A display of democracy on detention camp plan (Herald-News)