Legislation Would Ban Private Immigrant Detention Centers In Illinois

Mar 22, 2019

Legislation being considered in the Illinois House could cancel plans for a proposed ICE detention facility in Dwight.

Illinois banned private criminal prisons in 1990. But that law doesn’t include civil detention centers. Several lawmakers are pushing for a total ban.

Immigrant rights advocates argue private detention centers profit from human misery.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said many of people being detained are asylum-seekers who don’t belong in custody.

“Private prisons have a history of cost cutting at the expense of workers and detainees with respect to food, medical services, pay, training and even safety precautions,” Tsao said. “Meanwhile, with their incentive to keep facilities full, private prisons fuel mass incarceration and overpolicing and overprosecution of communities of color.”

Since 2011, Tsao said, there have been four attempts to build for-profit immigrant detention centers in Illinois — in Crete, Joliet, Hopkins Park and now Dwight.

The legislation would not prevent ICE from operating in Illinois, but it would bar state and local agencies from making or receiving payments from private prison companies.

“What this bill does is to make sure that localities, like the village of Dwight, aren’t incentivizing in any way entering into agreements to facilitate the detention of individuals — or, for that matter, profiting themselves from it,” said Mark Fleming, with the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Lawmakers also heard personal testimony from an asylum-seeker.

Ivette, who wanted to keep her last name confidential, told lawmakers through a translator about her experience in a private prison when she came from El Salvador.

“After a difficult journey to the United States, I crossed the border and looked for border guards to ask for asylum,” she said. “They put my son and me in a freezing cold jail cell, refused to give milk or a change of clothes after he vomited on what he was wearing. It was so crowded, we slept on the ground between the toilet and the trash can.”

Ivette said her son was taken from her arms and moved to a separate detention center. They were recently reunited after more than eight months apart.

The Dwight Village Board approved land use for an ICE detention facility earlier this month. They have not yet received an offer from federal immigration authorities.

House Bill 2040 was voted out of committee Wednesday. Republican lawmakers said there may be opposition from county jails.

Listen to Ivette’s full testimony below.