US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Detention center resisted by small town

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Crete is thirty miles south of Chicago. I used to pass through it on the way to the Claretian’s high school seminary. It is a small, rather rural community, intent on maintaining its small town character as the Chicago megalopolis creeps south. Already it is joined into a congressional district represented by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago. and is near the proposed site of a third airport for the city.

Now Crete faces a new threat to its bucolic vision--a detention center to house deportees. The village fathers are negotiating with the Correction Corporation of America (CCA) to build one that would house 750 people the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency (ICE) proposes to send out of the country. ICE plans seven such new facilities around the country. Having taken heat for housing deportees in country jails and inadequate facilities, it wants to house them more humanely. But there are two problems with that.

First, many Crete residents don’t want a detention center--however humane. The citizenry is divided. Some like the village elders welcome the new jobs and the economic boost it would bring. Others, at least the more vocal, rather pass on this threat to their rural life style. They are a mix of the “not-in-my-back-yard” types who resent higher taxes or lower property values and the “good citizen” types who fear that the village fathers have made a deal in secret with ICE or CCA to the village's disadvantage. Still others see it is broadest context of national social policy--are more detention centers the right solution to the immigration mess? Those forces are converging in effort to stop the village from welcoming CCA in.

The second issue is the national question of “privatizing” detention--as applicable to our prisons as to holding detainee for deportation. CCA is the largest private jailer in the U.S.--or, as they like to call it, “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections”. The organization has a checkered history--first rate to the private prison association, but to prison reform advocates compounding the problem of prison detention with poorly trained staff and inmate abuse and neglect. CCA’s very first facility in Houston was to house immigrants for deportation, and it maintains many such around the world. Last year it came under heavy criticism because some detainees had died because of lack of medical care. Others have complained of physical or sexual abuse by guards. Public service unions representing civil servant guards have long accused CCA of dragging down pay levels and quality of care. Also  unions object that CCA throws around lots of money as it lobbies for tougher immigration enforcement. It gets paid by the occupancy of its bed, and so tougher enforcement means higher occupancy and higher profits. Under Obama CCA is doing very well. (See SEIU comments.)

One of the objections to new detention centers: Are they needed? Obviously, holding immigrants whose offense is civil not criminal--together with drug dealers, murders, sex offenders in common jails--is undesirable. But ICE's solution--new, spiffy detention centers – is both unnecessary and an expensive alternative. The vast majority of immigrants in deportation procedures could, and should, be granted parole to their families while their cases are being determined. Even ankle brackets would work and be cheaper. Further CCA  has a history of poor performance and has lost contracts with governments around the globe pulled. It’s no reason a new facility should be dumped on bucolic Crete and in the hands of a corporation seeking profits..

(A disclaimer is needed here. I have been meeting with immigration advocates who are assisting the grass-roots opposition to a CCA facility in Crete.)