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Huge Crowd Turns Out for Meeting on Immigration Detention Center

While the city had just one exploratory meeting in October to discuss the facility being built in Joliet, efforts are being mounted to stop it before it goes any further.

More than 400 people packed Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Thursday to learn more about an immigrant detention center that could be built in Joliet and to make plans to ensure it doesn't come to pass.

Amid outbreaks of applause and shouts of "Yes We Can" and "Si Se Puede," a half dozen speakers covered topics ranging from the evils of privately owned prisons to the potentially negative economic impacts to ways to organize and defeat any proposal presented.

"It's something we have to pay close attention to," said the Rev. José Cilia, Our Lady associate pastor, speaking in both English and Spanish. "It will change the way we live, the way we educate, the way we work.

"Many people already feel like they're in a prison of fear (because they're undocumented and could be deported)," Cilia said. "We do not need this prison."

In October it was revealed that Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas had met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss the possibility of building a privately run immigration detention center in Joliet.

The 700-bed facility would be owned and operated by Corrections Corp. of America, which saw its plans for a similar center in Crete derailed by public opposition.

Thanas, who attended the meeting but was not invited to speak, said Thursday that he has not spoken with anyone affiliated with the immigration department or the CCA since that initial meeting.

Part of the public opposition centers on the nature of a for-profit prison, which needs to fill beds and save money in order to succeed.

Tom Garlitz, representing the Diocese of Joliet's Office for Human Dignity, said Catholic bishops in America have denounced the concept of immigration detention centers. They want a moratorium on deportation until the federal government establishes an official immigration policy, he said.

For-profit prisons, Garlitz said, quoting a letter written by the bishops, see people as "commodities." When people get "de-humanized," it makes it easier for others to abuse and exploit them, he said.

Beyond that is the human toll of families being divided, Garlitz said. Sometimes, it's the father who is sent back to his native country, casting his wife and children into poverty, he said. Other times, both parents are deported and their American-born children end up in foster care, he said.

Economically, it could have a huge impact on Joliet, resident David Valazquez told the audience. Undocumented residents, whom he estimated to be more than half of Joliet's 41,000 Hispanic population, would likely leave the city -- taking with them nearly $286 million in annual spending.

Valazquez said local undocumented workers are paying taxes, buying homes and investing in businesses. Living in the shadow of a deportation center will cause them to abandon the community, he said.

The loudest audience response of the evening was for Bernie Kopera and Cetta Smart, organizers of the effort that kept the CCA from building a detention center in Crete.

While there are very few Hispanics their tiny town of 8,000, the negative impacts of a privately owned immigration facility are the same wherever it's built, Kopera said.

The pair vowed to join the fight against a center being built in Joliet.

"Will we win this (fight)?" Kopera challenged. "Yes," the crowd shouted back. "Will you be a fighter on this?" "Yes!"

Thanas, speaking prior to the meeting, said there is going to be public opposition to an immigration detention center, regardless of where it's built. Much of what's being said about CCA specifically and privately owned facilities in general is either not true or exaggerated, he said.

"It would be a state-of-the-art facility able to (handle) detainees in the deportation process," Thanas said. "CCA has 66 facilities throughout the U.S. If they had a policy of abusing people, they would have been out a business a long time ago.

"Show me a jail that doesn't have an (occasional) allegation of abuse, and I'd question the accuracy of that belief. It's the nature of these facilities. ... Have the allegations of excessive force (against CCA) risen to the level of extraordinary? Based on my investigations, they have not.

"What I find it frustrating is that people are unwilling to listen to the facts," Thanas said. "The effort the opposition is putting into this would be better spent in finding long-term answers to the bigger issue (of immigration policy)."

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DRECKS December 14, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Why should Joliet care what the Diocese says. Joliet asked the Diocese not to move out of the city and they did not listen. Cresthill asked them not to move into Cresthill and they did not listen. Why should we care what the Diocese says!
Don December 15, 2012 at 03:06 AM
It's going to be built somewhere.. Whether it's in your back yard or 50 miles away, it's not gong to stop someone from being detained if they meet the criteria for detention. Take the jobs this will offer the community!!!!
John Roberts December 15, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Destroying the world would create jobs also...go a headlock all the illegal immigrants up then we can have a protest,maybe some violence,and in the end our community politicians can pass more restrictive laws against its law abiding citizens...People's actions towards others warrant actions against other people..Understand?...how many shipping,meat,food,clothing,factories are going to protest and picket? Lock them up and the taxpayer is still footing the bill....Then in a couple of years the city can raise taxes to fund schooling in the prison,and maybe some recreational things...or ya know what how about a 35 million dollar addition to the transportation department to take the illegals that are going to come back down to Mexico....people are people and everyone deserves a chance to make it...If took away the boarders the government makes all you have is people who live on a big ass rock...
Don December 16, 2012 at 01:00 AM
My previous comment was in no way pro or anti immigration reform, however go live in just about any other civilized country illegally and see how their legal system treats you. Borders are a reality. Detention facilities are a reality. Again, it's going to be built somewhere, why not here? Joliet is losing about 200 jobs with the impending close of the IYC alone. Where does it say there's going to be a manhunt for illegals starting at the facility and going outward? Nowhere. Most of those being detained and deported have committed felony crimes anyway. At least if they are in this detention facility, there's a better chance that these people will be off of the public dime sooner than if they served a term in a conventional state or federal prison. Think of the economy and support systems in place as a lifeboat on a cruise ship - They can only hold so many people. If it tries to support too many people, they sink. And these support systems are sinking. Why should those who aren't in this country legally and committing crimes be asked to leave first?
Mason Frost December 16, 2012 at 01:59 PM
What a complete joke! Love the way Pandering politicians (on both sides) and the criminals themselves protest the LAW likening it to the black civil rights movement. No wonder blacks hate mexicans. Amend the anchor baby exception police businesses with stiifer fines and jail time and the problem will resolve on its own over the next 10 years. Remove the food and pests typically go elsewhere. And to the guy who wants to elimate borders and religion - You are a moron now give me a hug you know you need one.

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