Latino group protests union official’s support for detention center
By Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org May 21, 2012 7:14PM
Rev. Sara Wohleb, St. John United Church of Christ, speaks as latino groups protest trade council support for immigrant detention center proposed for Crete outside the Will County Carpenters Local 174 George A. Perinar Memorial Hall in Joliet, Illinois, Monday, May 21, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:24AM
JOLIET — Latino and religious leaders took to the street Monday, protesting outside a Joliet union hall over a local leader’s support of an immigration prison proposed for Crete.
About 10 protesters with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights gathered outside the Carpenters and Millwrights Local 174 on Essington Road and demanded a meeting with John Scheidt, who is a member and also serves as president of the Will and Grundy Counties Building Trades Council.
Scheidt has publicly supported the facility.
The protesters joined hands and prayed before gathering in front of the union hall sign on Essington Road. They held up signs with Scheidt’s picture on them, labeled “Labor Vulture” and “Prison Profiteer.”
“The unions have lost their soul,” said the Rev. Ray Lescher, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Joliet and a member of the board of Warehouse Workers for Justice.
“They’re supporting a scab organization in supporting this place,” Lescher said. “For the unions to get in bed with them and build this, this is terrible.”
Corrections Corporation of America, a private company that builds and operates prisons, jails and detention facilities, has proposed to build a 750-bed immigration detention center in Crete. The center would house illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
The coalition has questioned CCA’s track record, saying the company has a history of neglect and abuse.
There were two protests by the coalition Monday. The first was outside the Romeoville office of state Rep. Emily McAsey, who did not grant their request for a phone meeting to discuss her position on a bill that would ban private companies from building or operating detention centers.
The bill is awaiting a vote in the Illinois House. It was already approved by the Senate.
The second action was outside the Local 174.
“Quite a number of these unions ... have immigrant constituencies. They are concerned about the immigration issue and the consequences of having this large facility, which (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would feel the need to fill through tougher enforcement activity,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the coalition, which organized the protest. “That could affect the members of these unions.”
Scheidt was not at the Local 174 hall. A woman behind the reception desk said he was in Chicago for an all-day meeting. Scheidt did not return calls seeking comment.
In a letter published in The Herald-News on May 4, Scheidt, in his capacity as president of the WGBTC, supported the detention center project. It would create jobs, not only through construction, but once the facility is finished, he wrote.
Tsao said the prison’s opening would result in the loss of jobs at other prisons that currently house immigrant detainees.
“It’s a shell game,” Tsao said.