Community pushes back against proposed ICE detention facility

Published: Dec. 1, 2017 at 12:34 AM EST
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On Thursday, dozens gathered at Our Lady of the Road in South Bend to talk about how they would like to stop a proposed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center from coming to Elkhart County.

This meeting and a rally just days after Elkhart County commissioners said this could be a possibility are just some of the ways the community has been on edge trying to fight it.

Commissioners said it would be a place for people awaiting deportation, but people at the meeting say this would drive away immigrants and hurt the quality of life.

"As an immigrant, I worry about my community," said Marlen Ortiz, who attended the meeting with her son. She immigrated to America in high school.

"I don't agree with this at all, I feel that it brings people apart more than bringing the community together," Ortiz said.

The facility is proposed for the land across from the Elkhart County Landfill off of County Road 7. It has brought up a lot of emotions throughout the immigrant community.

"There has not even been a proposal filed yet, but we already have a coalition of more than 1,300 members," said Richard Aguirre of the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center. "The company is going to come in at some point and try to spin this as a positive, but we know, based on what's happening all over the country that these are not good facilities."

"The notion that we need a detention center in order to ensure immigrant compliance is just false," said Lisa Koop, the associate director for legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center. "We rely very heavily on all of our community members including non-citizens and immigrants and I think that opposing the construction of a private prison is a way of showing that we are a community that values all of its members."

A lot of unknowns still remain, but officials at the meeting say this will be a jail.

"I think detention center is just an attempt at saying in nicer terms a jail or a prison," Koop said. "If it's anything like the other CCA CoreCivic facilities it'll be a private prison run by the private prison corporation."

CoreCivic is the company that brought the proposal to Elkhart County commissioners a few weeks ago. According to commissioners the facility is not supposed to be privately operated, but it will be privately built.

County commissioners also said the proposed facility would have 800 to 1,200 beds used for people who are convicted of crimes, awaiting deportation.

Thursday night everyone in attendance made their voices heard by writing letters to the Elkhart County commissioners.

"You're basically telling people that they're not welcome here and that 's not how America is, that's not how the people I know are," said Ortiz.

"If we continue to keep the momentum going I think there's a good chance this company will see that it's not even worth its while to pursue an application and that's our goal," said Aguirre.

According to Aguirre, the ACLU has been fighting proposed detention facilities in communities in Michigan, Wisconsin Minnesota and Wyoming so he believes this could become a national movement.

No official decision has been made on the facility, but it's expected after the new year.