By Alyse Shields
JCUA Intern, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago
As we walked down the roads through the south suburban Crete last Sunday I was reminded of a movement that began in a similar fashion, just over 50 years ago.
The village of Crete does not see many demonstrations like this, and not everyone we came across that chilly afternoon welcomed our presence. However, when the Civil Rights Movement began in 1964, not all of those marchers were welcomed onto the streets of various towns across our nation either. Laws and policies that had been considered “natural” were being challenged. Like those that came together that Sunday, groups marched peaceably with one another not just to show solidarity, but also to challenge inhumane treatment of people in this nation.
Responding to requests from local leaders, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has been working since last fall to help them organize in opposition to construction of a federal immigrant detention center in Crete. This 750-bed facility would be built by Corrections Corporation of America.
On Sunday, April 1, those Crete residents welcomed a Chicago-based organization that undertook a three-day walk from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood more than 30 miles to Crete.
JCUA joined Crete residents to meet the sojourners on their arrival and march with them through town to the proposed site of the detention center.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. joined the march along the way and offered words of support at the gathering in the fallow cornfield, where palms were laid for Palm Sunday in honor of those who have died or been deported.
The walk took a few hours, and brought many Crete residents out of their homes to take pictures or collect flyers. Various signs read “No Crete Detention Center” and “Please do not deport my mom,” and “Immigrant Rights Are Human Rights.”
Despite some reactions of skepticism, many other townspeople provided a warm welcome to our group. Some passersby in cars honked to show their support, others cheered us on from the sidewalks. A neighbor near the site of the proposed detention center was generous enough to offer her land to host the portable toilets after village officials denied their placement on public property.
People of a wide variety of backgrounds, political stances and faiths all came together to promote one thing: change. Hopefully in time, more will join this cause and pursue social justice and human rights by taking part in one of the major Civil Rights issues or our times.
The April 1 march corresponded with the Illinois Senate’s recent passage of SB 1064, a bill that would expand Illinois’ existing ban on private prisons to include private detention centers like the proposed Crete facility. The bill is now in the House where it awaits further action. To send an email to your State Representatives and learn more about SB 1064, please click here (http://icirr.org/content/say-no-crete-detention-center).