City went to ICE about detention center
By Bob Okon email@example.com February 4, 2013 2:16PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 6:18AM
Joliet City Manager Thomas Thanas in August proposed that the city enter into an agreement with the federal government on an immigrant detention center.
News of the city’s interest in the detention center surfaced in late October, and Thanas has described the effort since then as exploratory.
But the Aug. 28 letter from Thanas to Ricardo Wong, field office director at the Chicago office of the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says in part that “with the proper approvals, the City of Joliet would like to enter into an Intergovernmental Services Agreement with ICE.”
Thanas opens the letter with, “I want to take this opportunity to let you know that the City of Joliet is supportive of efforts to locate a detention facility in the Chicago area and would welcome the facility within our municipal city limits.”
Thanas also put his name to a proposal by Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that would build and run the center.
The proposal lists the benefits of locating the center in Joliet and says a “primary site” has been determined. The site is not identified but is described as a “pre-approved industrial setting with a fast track/expedited permitting process.”
The letter surfaced over the weekend and has been circulating among foes of the detention center, which would house illegal immigrants awaiting deportation. Thanas said he released the letter recently in response to a request for city records regarding the proposed center.
Opposition to the center has been building in Joliet since news of the city’s interest leaked out. Hispanic groups and the Joliet Diocese are major opponents, as they were in a similar effort last spring that stopped an immigrant detention center from being built in Crete.
Thanas said Monday that the letter was typical of those he sends to pursue development opportunities for the city.
“It seemed like something I needed to explore so I expressed interest. It’s something I do frequently when I see development opportunities,” he said, noting that the project could mean 300 construction jobs and 250 permanent jobs.
Thanas said he acted alone in pursuing the project, with the understanding that the city council and mayor would have to give approval if it were to become reality. The letter was copied to Mayor Thomas Giarrante and three people at Corrections Corporation of America.
Opponents have been showing up regularly at city council meetings to voice their concerns and to display signs against the detention center.
On Monday, the Rev. Jose Cilia, associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Joliet, told the council that the center would be “harmful” to immigrant families in the city.
“We will be destroying people,” Cilia said.
Thanas addressed the issue after Cilia spoke. He mentioned the letter, saying it was likely to appear in news reports but always had been available if requested. He described the debate over the detention center as an “academic discussion” with no specific plan before the council.
Giarrante commended Thanas at the meeting for exploring the project.
“It’s your job to go out and find business and industries that will bring jobs to Joliet,” Giarrante said. “The mayor and city council will make the final decision.”