Joliet City Councilman Jim McFarland wants to hear firsthand – and publicly – what Corrections Corp. of America plans to do if it builds an immigration detention center in Joliet.
McFarland, who called for a public meeting to learn about what has been discussed privately with city officials, was one of several community leaders at a news conference Thursday to speak against a controversial proposal to build a for-profit immigrant detention center in Joliet.
“There’s a lot here that needs to be discussed,” said McFarland, who plans to bring up the issue of a public meeting with the company at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.The city first learned of the Tennessee-based company's plans last October in a closed-door meeting.
Community leaders also presented petitions signed by thousands of residents and letters from U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, Bill Foster, Mike Quigley, Brad Schneider and Tammy Duckworth to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano opposing construction of any for-profit immigration detention facilities in Illinois.
“I call upon the mayor and council to recall their own immigrant roots and stand with us in opposing this immigrant prison,” said Tom Garlitz of the Diocese of Joliet. He noted that Presence St. Joseph Medical Center and the University of St. Francis also joined with the Diocese in opposition to the center.
“By faith and by history, we are an immigrant church,” Garlitz said at Thursday’s news conference organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “And we will always stand with the immigrant.”
McFarland, who was recently elected to Joliet’s City Council, was critical of the city for not publicly discussing a possible for-profit detention facility for immigrants. Until now, any discussions with CCA have been held privately with Joliet’s City Manager Tom Thanas.
“People know what’s being proposed,” McFarland said. “I feel we need to stop the hysteria in Joliet and publicly showcase what’s being discussed.”
Mayor Tom Giarrante, however, said a public meeting to discuss a potential proposal for a detention facility would be a “waste of time.”
“I don’t see any need for this,” Giarrante said, noting he has not talked to anyone from CCA for the last six months.
He noted federal laws regarding immigration would affect plans for a detention facility. He also noted that CCA has not officially submitted any proposal to build in Joliet.
“We need to just let it play out,” he said, adding that if a formal proposal is made, then the city could have meetings.
He also said that CCA is looking at other locations and that the only criteria he was aware of for locating a facility is that it needs to be within two hours of Chicago. He also dismissed concerns that the facility would be used to temporarily house illegal immigrants who have been pulled over for minor infractions – such as speeding – before deportation.
“I’ve had people tell me that the people who go to this detention center are all convicted felons,” he said, noting those committing minor offenses would not be sent there.