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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press The town of Dwight, Ill., agreed to annex a former prison for a private immigration detention facility, but the state has banned such setups.

Sunday, July 14, 2019 1:00 am

Frontier in fight on detention

Illinois' ban on private sites a Trump 'firewall'

Associated Press

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Thousands rally ahead of sweeps

CHICAGO – Several thousand protesters have marched through downtown Chicago to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies, including planned sweeps in several American cities, including Chicago, over the weekend.

The protesters at Saturday's march belted chants critical of President Donald Trump and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Many of them carried placards with messages including “No kids in cages” and “Abolish ICE.”

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the protest was peaceful and that there were no arrests. He says there were an estimated 5,000 protesters at its peak. The protest came a day before the planned immigration roundups are expected to happen.

CHICAGO – Far from the southern border crisis, Illinois has launched a bullish effort to undercut the Trump administration's immigration detention practices, and politicians and activists are taking note.

The state recently enacted a first-of-its-kind ban on privately-run immigration detention, as President Donald Trump's threat of mass deportations looms and his administration scrambles to find more jail space in an already overcrowded system.

Promises to bar private immigration detention have been made repeatedly by Democrats on the 2020 campaign trail, and advocates hope the Illinois law will galvanize others.

“No one benefits from keeping people unnecessarily incarcerated. The only people who do benefit are shareholders,” said senior policy counsel Fred Tsao, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which has fought private detention.

Illinois became the first state to bar private companies from contracting with local communities to detain immigrants under a law signed last month by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said it made the state “a firewall against Donald Trump's attacks” on immigrants.

The goal was to prevent the construction of a 1,300-bed facility roughly 80 miles from Chicago. Some estimate it would have nearly doubled Immigration and Customs Enforcement's capacity to house immigrants in the area.

The move was hailed as a major victory by immigrant rights advocates, who have fought off other proposals in the area. While a national ban would be politically unrealistic with most immigrant detainees being held in privately run detention, some 2020 candidates held up Illinois as a model.

Private detention facilities have been used for immigration since the 1980s but didn't take off until the 2000s, when management was increasingly outsourced, according to Lauren Brooke Eisen, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice who wrote a book on private prisons.

Now, at least 60% of immigrants detained by ICE are in privately managed facilities, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center. The adult population of detainees was over 53,000 as of last month, and the agency is only budgeted for 45,000, according to ICE.

Since 2012, immigration authorities have tried at least nine times to subcontract with local communities to build a private detention center near Chicago, including in northwestern Indiana.

Most recently, the 4,000-person town of Dwight, Illinois, agreed to annex land for an ICE facility that would have been run by Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America.

ICA officials argue that their facilities are designed with the needs of detained immigrants and are a better option than jails. Spokesman John Truscott said attorneys were reviewing options after Illinois' ban.

“We get the politics of it,” Truscott said. “What we're trying to do is provide a better alternative.”