Opponents of a proposed immigrant detention center in Joliet turned up the volume of their criticism this month.
Gov. Pat Quinn last week joined Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives in opposing the idea. Also last week, a petition signed by 5,000 people opposed to the plan was presented to Joliet's City Council.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dated May 23, Quinn asked Napolitano to reject plans for the for-profit detention facility.
"It is time to embrace our nation's immigrants, not build prisons to incarcerate them," Quinn states in his letter.
The plan calls for a federal immigrant detention center that would be operated by Corrections Corporation of American, a private company based in Tennessee, Joliet officials have said. A similar proposal for CCA to build a detention facility in south suburban Crete was rejected last year.
U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement officials have proposed building more detention centers to improve a patchwork system that involves renting space at the McHenry County Jail and other facilities to house people awaiting deportation hearings. Officials have said the new facilities would feel less like a prison than the spaces now used by ICE.
CCA began talks with Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas in October about building a facility in Joliet. No official plans have been submitted, but City Council members say they want to hear from CCA within the next month about their proposal.
CCA officials said they have not been contacted by the city to set up a meeting and declined to answer whether they will oblige the council's request for more details.
"We respect the council's decision and we share the desire for more facts so that everyone can make informed decisions," said Steve Owen, a spokesman for CCA. "The challenge for all of us is that this is so preliminary that we don't have all the concrete facts yet."
The detention center plan has come under fire from Joliet residents, immigration rights advocates and some local officials. Some critics oppose a system that deports thousands of people annually while others don't want a detention center run by a private company focused on profit. Proponents say the facility would bring much needed jobs.
The issue was at the heart of Jim McFarland's campaign for City Council this spring. McFarland was the top vote getter in a four-way race for three at-large seats.
"This isn't in the best interest of the city of Joliet," McFarland recently said.
Like others, McFarland, who pushed for the public meeting with CCA, questions how the facility would be run. CCA has been the target of much criticism over its treatment of detainees.
At a City Council meeting last week, opponents presented council members with letters signed by Madigan and seven representatives from Illinois opposing the facility. The council also was given a petition signed by more than 5,000 residents opposed to CCA's plans.
Though residents and council members want details of the project, Owen said CCA doesn't have details to offer.
"It's been very preliminary dialogue and we're waiting for more information (from ICE) on how or if we are going to proceed," Owen said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now