Immigrant lockup a tough sell

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Dozens of residents crowded Crete’s Village Hall today as they decried a proposal to bring an immigration detention center to town.

During a regularly scheduled village board meeting, which did not have any matters relating to the proposed detention center on its agenda, Crete officials heard from residents who said they were concerned about the reputation of their town, their property values and some weightier matters like national immigration policy.  

The wood-panelled  room which houses the village board meetings was standing room only. Some had to crowd outside. They chanted "No Crete detention center" and  held signs that said "Crete detention center" with a slash through the words.

Inside, officials spent about an hour and half explaining that the village had been contacted by a private corporation in 2010  seeking to build an immigration detention center, but that nothing was set in stone. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcementhas selected Crete as the potential site for an immigration detention center — one of seven locations nationwide chosen for such a facility, as the agency consolidates its detention centers and deports illegal immigrants at a record pace.

Crete would hire a private company, Corrections Corporation of America,   to build and manage the facility of 500 to 700 beds if the plans evolve into a federal contract with the village, Mayor Michael Einhorn said.

On Monday, Einhorn and the village manager, Thomas Durkin, explained that they see this proposed facility an economic development project with unique concerns that requires a lot of scrutiny.

"I personally have some real issues with this that have to do with liability for the village," the mayor said.

Residents asked questions and made comments, as well.

"This is not the type of economic development that Crete residents want," Linda Brown told officials.

But Einhorn explained the project has to be looked at for the added revenue it could bring.

"We spend about $280,000 a month in expenses," he said. "That money has to come from somewhere.

And while residents like Mark Rose said they don't want this facility in their backyard, the mayor said he wouldn't mind.

Officials from Crete, ICE and the private company, Corrections Corporation of America, say the detention center plan is not a done deal. But officials from all three have been talking privately since at least 2010, according to records obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act. 

Under President Barack Obama, the federal government has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants. Last year, nearly 400,000 people were deported, the most in ICE's history, the agency said. ICE said it does not maintain deportation numbers for just Chicago or Illinois. Nearly 12,000 people were deported last year from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri, an ICE spokeswoman said. That was about 1,500 more than in 2010.

The Crete site would be built on 70 acres of vacant farmland at the end of Hartmann Drive off Burville Road, village officials said. 

There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of that group, ICE officials said, criminals, recent border violators or those who ignore immigration orders are targeted by the agency.

But Crete township resident John Czaplicki said the village should be mindful that immigration policy could change.

"If we build it (and policy changes) it will be a white elephant out there," he said.

bschlikerman@tribune.com

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