Detention center debate turns to Catholics, racism, trip to Texas
by bob okon email@example.com February 19, 2013 10:42PM
People arrive at a town hall meeting against the proposed Joliet immigrant detention center Thursday, December 13, 2012, at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Social Hall in Joliet. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:50AM
JOLIET — The detention center debate took new twists and turns Tuesday, with a priest accusing Joliet officials of racism and the city manager retorting that the church should look at its sins.
And while there is no specific proposal to build an immigrant detention center in Joliet, it appears that a group is headed to Houston to see what one would look like.
The detention center controversy has been building since it was learned in late October that the city manager was exploring the possibilities of locating such a facility in Joliet.
Opponents have regularly attended city council meetings, speaking out against the detention center. City Manager Thomas Thanas has been calling the discussion “academic.”
But it became rambunctious as well at Tuesday’s council meeting when the Rev. Peter Jankowski, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Joliet, began comparing the project to slavery and racist attitudes of the 19th century.
“You can dress up a pig, but it’s still a pig, and this pig is called racism,” Jankowski said of the detention center. “It’s racism of the worst kind.”
He said such a center would be a “slander” against Hispanic people in the city.
There was no immediate reaction to Jankowski’s comments, and he was followed by three other speakers.
But when Thanas later discussed the mounting opposition to the center, he referred to the Joliet Diocese’s decision last year to move its offices out of Joliet. He said opponents of the center “have recruited the Catholic Church to come forward and take (itself) away from (its) Crest Hill headquarters and tell us how to run things.”
When Councilman Larry Hug suggested that Thanas’ comment was out of line, Thanas noted that five Catholic priests have come to council meetings to criticize the city and that the allegation of racism went too far. He then referred to the diocese’s Office of Human Dignity, which has taken a stand against the detention center.
“I have to tell the Office of Human Dignity of the Catholic Church to look at their own church and look at issues of human dignity in their own church for the last 30 years,” Thanas said.
He did not go into detail but the Joliet Diocese, like many others, has been scandalized by cases of priests’ sexually abusing minors as well as by allegations of diocese officials covering up the abuse.
The diocese has joined Hispanic leaders and other community organizers in Joliet in opposing the detention center. Thanas has repeatedly said that his interest in the center, which the federal government wants to locate somewhere in the Chicago region, is based on the jobs and tax dollars it could bring to Joliet.
Opponents and other interested parties may join Thanas in a trip in a month or so to visit an immigrant detention center in Houston. Opponent Alicia Morales suggested to Thanas that a Joliet resident should join him on the trip. Thanas said such a plan was in the works.
He said Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that would build and run the center, wants several opponents to join him and possibly some city council members in a tour of the facility in Texas.