A Virginia-based company is one step closer to building a private immigration detention center near Chicago after trustees of a small village approved the plan despite pushback from activists.
Dwight trustees last week voted to annex and rezone 88 acres (36 hectares) where Immigration Centers of America plans to build a detention center. More than 200 people attended the village meeting, which was repeatedly interrupted by protesters.
The project could stimulate the region's economy by creating about 300 jobs, said Jared Anderson, the president of the village board. Dwight, which is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of downtown Chicago, lost jobs and businesses when the state closed a women's prison in the village, he said.
There have been multiple failed attempts in recent years to bring a detention center to the Chicago area. The most recent effort stands out because village officials backed the plan, said Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and refugees.
"All the others were basically killed either at a vote of the village officials or never got a vote because the proposal was withdrawn," Tsao said.
Anderson said he received more than 100 emails opposing the Immigration Centers of America project, but almost all of them were sent by people who live outside the village.
John Truscott, a spokesman for the Immigration Centers of America, agreed that most of those against the center were outsiders.
"We are more than happy to listen to what they have to say," Truscott said. "In the end, this is a decision for the citizens of Dwight."
Those against the plan complained that the only goal of for-profit facilities is to increase the number of inmates for financial gain, and have raised concerns about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies that separate children from their parents.
"Opportunities built on the back of another person aren't opportunities," said Eva Garcia, of the Chicago-based United Workers Center.
Immigration Centers of America, which already operates a detention center in Farmville, Virginia, must secure a contract with the federal government by September 2020 for the Dwight facility.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in February rejected ICA's effort to purchase a former state prison in Ionia, Michigan, because the company wasn't able to ensure detainees wouldn't be people being separated from their families.
The firm is still looking for a location in Michigan, according to a company spokesman.