Two pictures painted of future immigrant detention center
By bob okon email@example.com February 22, 2013 2:24PM
Joliet City Manager Thomas Thanas
Updated: March 27, 2013 6:04AM
Just who would go into an immigrant detention center if one is ever built in Joliet?
Opponents of the project have painted a picture of undocumented immigrants being rounded up — even on the streets of Joliet — to keep the jail cells full if the facility is built.
The company that wants to build the detention center paints a different picture.
Most of the people going into its immigrant detention centers are immigrants who had been convicted of crimes, served time in prison, and face deportation, said Steve Owen, spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America.
“They have already completed their sentence and are now subject to deportation,” Owen said. “They are being detained until that process is completed.”
The detention center would be created to meet U.S. government specifications for a facility better suited for deportation, a civil process, than imprisonment for crimes, Owen said. A courtroom would be built into the detention center, and a judge would be on site to hear cases.
Just what this CCA center might look like is clouded by the fact that there is no specific proposal to build it.
But the track record at U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement shows that most immigrants in detention centers got there through relatively minor offences, said Jesse Hoyt, an organizer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“When you actually look at the statistics and see what different offenses they’re guilty of, they’re like DUI and traffic offenses,” Hoyt said. “Over 77 percent of the people are there for really minor offenses.”
Hoyt said the ICE numbers are not readily available. But a group affiliated with the Illinois coalition obtained them when demanding information from ICE on inmate statistics.
ICE did not make anyone available for an interview for this story.
CCA and city officials have acknowledged exploring the prospects of building a detention center in Joliet.
ICE has said little other than that it wants to build a detention center in the Chicago area.
That has left Joliet City Manager Thomas Thanas as the point man in both answering questions about the detention center and taking the brunt of the criticism from opponents. Thanas at last week’s city council meeting told a room packed with people who had come to show opposition to the project that it would be used to house pedophiles, drug dealers and other criminals, not to break up immigrant families who can’t show proper legal status to be in the United States.
“The reality is this is a key facet of the (Obama) administration’s efforts on immigration reform,” Thanas said. “What the government is saying is there has to be a better way to do this.”
The government has said that.
While ICE has not provided anyone to answer questions, the agency did refer to a 2009 fact sheet from the agency on proposed immigrant detention reforms.
ICE then said that the agency wanted to reform a system in which immigrants are held in jails and privately run prisons. Instead, it would create a system of facilities designed for civil detention, giving detainees better access to legal and social services.
Nearly a year ago, ICE opened what the agency described as its “first-ever designed-and-built civil detention center” in Karnes City, Texas.
“This civil detention center represents a first in the entire history of immigration detention,” ICE Director John Morton said in a written statement announcing the opening of the Texas facility. “Karnes and others like it are one part of an ICE detention reform program that is sensible, sustainable and attentive to the unique needs of the individuals in our custody.”
None of which, however, answers the question of whether ordinary, undocumented immigrants would be housed in the facility along with convicted criminals who have done time.
Opponents have contended that a Joliet detention center would be filled with immigrants torn from their families and detained by a private company that needs inmates to boost its profits.
Alicia Morales, one outspoken opponent at the council meeting last week, presented numbers indicating Joliet would lose millions of dollars in spending power because working but undocumented immigrants would be rounded up, and Hispanics would avoid Joliet if CCA gets a contract to build a prison in the city.
“Who would want to come to Joliet with a for-profit prison here?” she asked.