Will Dwight affect county’s ICE money?

April 13, 2019

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey has downplayed Dwight’s chances of landing a federal immigrant prison.

During a meeting this week, a county board member asked the sheriff about the possibility that Dwight, 30 miles away from Kankakee, will be selected as the site for the new lockup.

The fear is that a nearby immigrant prison will financially hurt Kankakee County, which gets millions every year housing immigrant detainees. Last month, the Dwight village board approved the zoning for a 1,200-bed immigrant prison proposed by a private company, Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America.

A couple days after the approval, the federal government issued a request for proposals for such facilities, Downey said.

“Some things in the (request for proposals) weren’t the same as Dwight was proposing to residents,” the sheriff told the county board’s criminal justice committee. “Obviously, they still have to be selected.”

For two decades, Downey said, the federal government has been looking for a Midwestern lockup for immigrants. Kankakee County has responded to three requests for proposals for an immigrant prison since 2009, he said.

One advantage for Kankakee County is that the majority of immigrant detainees in the local jail are criminals, while private facilities, including the one planned for Dwight, prefer to house noncriminals, Downey said. If this is true, Dwight would be little competition for Kankakee County — or so local officials believe.

As for the Dwight proposal, the Republican sheriff said, “It’s something I’m staying on top of. I talk to the Chicago office (of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) two times a week.”

Even if the feds choose Dwight, it’s doubtful the prison would open any sooner than five years, he said.

County Board chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said a bill in the state Legislature would ban local government bodies statewide from entering agreements with for-profit prisons. That would prevent agreements such as the one with Immigration Centers.

Downey noted support for the bill was bipartisan.

The Dwight plan is controversial. More than 200 people — many of them loudly protesting — attended the meeting where the Dwight board approved the zoning in a 5-2 vote. The decision attracted the Chicago media spotlight.

In Kankakee County, some residents have expressed opposition to housing immigrants at the local jail, saying the detainees simply are looking for a better life in the United States.

Last year, Kankakee County received $4.9 million for housing ICE detainees. Officials have said this money has helped the county make ends meet since the county entered an ICE contract in late 2016.