Hundreds rally against detention center
By Mike Nolan Sun-Times Media April 6, 2013 5:48PM
Updated: May 8, 2013 7:08AM
Jessie Ruiz’s three children wanted their father to take them to a park on a warm Saturday, but before it was time to play, the Joliet man wanted them to take part in something he strongly believes in.
Ruiz and more than 300 others stood in the parking lot of a Joliet banquet hall, chanting and holding signs in opposition to a proposal to build an immigrant detention center in the city.
At times shouting “si se puede,” or “yes we can,” the predominately Hispanic crowd heard speakers such as Maria Rosas, of the group Concerned Citizens of Joliet, who spoke in both English and Spanish to the group standing outside Azteca de Oro on Collins Street.
“We don’t need low-paying jobs,” said Rosas, battling the wind as she shouted into a microphone. “Our community deserves better.”
Ruiz said he is frustrated that little information has been provided to the community about the proposed detention center and worried about the impact it might have down the road on his children, ages 10, 6 and 3.
“They might not completely understand what’s happening now, but someday this could be a huge issue,” he said.
While the type of jobs the facility will create is an issue for opponents, they are concerned the detention center could be a way-station for immigrants accused of minor crimes and targeted for deportation.
“They are going to use the prison to lock up hard-working immigrants trying to support their families,” Herbert Brooks Jr., Will County Board speaker, told the crowd.
Few details about the project have been released. The for-profit Corrections Corp. of America would build and operate the center for the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.
CCA and ICE proposed a similar detention center in Crete, with trustees in that community voting in June to withdraw the village from consideration for the project. Plans to construct a center in Joliet surfaced last fall, but no formal proposal has been presented to the city council.
A CCA spokesman has said the detention center would house immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, served time in prison, and face deportation. Joliet City Manager Thomas Thanas has described the proposed center as holding people convicted of serious crimes and not petty offenses.
Jesse Hoyt, with the group Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which organized the rally, said the 800-bed center would house immigrants awaiting deportation not only from Illinois but surrounding states as well.
The ICIRR’s membership includes 140 community-based organizations, churches, schools and businesses and organized opposition to the detention center when it was proposed for Crete, Hoyt said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th) said the nation’s immigration system has “been left to rot” for at least the last 20 years and that it’s a system that “depends too much on detention and deportation,” which in turn “tears families apart.”
With the Joliet City Council ultimately voting on whether to bring a detention center to the city, the ICIRR used the rally to get attendees to promise they’ll vote in Tuesday’s municipal election. While the rally was an opportunity for some candidates to pass out literature, the ICIRR isn’t encouraging votes for or against any particular council candidates, Hoyt said.
“We are making sure we get people out to vote,” he said. “Our candidate is our issue. We are not lifting up any candidate (for the city council).”