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Would new ICE jail affect county?

February 10, 2019

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County relies on federal money for jailing immigrants to help make ends meet.

But it’s still unclear whether a company’s proposal to build a 1,200-bed immigration jail in nearby Dwight would reduce Kankakee County’s income.

Village officials in Dwight, which is 30 miles west of Kankakee, have been in talks with Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America about a proposed immigration detention center in town.

In late 2016, Kankakee County entered an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrants in the Jerome Combs Detention Center. The county also has been jailing inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service for more than a decade.

Some residents have protested the county’s decision to house ICE detainees. They say the county should refrain from helping ICE jail those who they say simply want to better their lives.

County officials have stressed the importance of their federal contracts in balancing the county’s budget. And they have said many detainees have committed crimes in the United States.

In an interview, Dwight Mayor Jared Anderson said his community has been in talks with Immigration Centers of America for about two years. He said he has been told that the Dwight center is not expected to have an effect on the Kankakee County jail because the Dwight operation is expected to only house those who have committed immigration violations.

“You’re going to still have (a jail) in Kankakee County,” Anderson said. “The ones in Kankakee County are criminals. That’s why they are being held over there. That’s how it was explained to me about two years ago.”

However, it’s unknown what percentage of Kankakee County’s ICE detainees are suspected of crimes and what percentage are there for immigration violations. Both the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, and ICE have declined to provide information on the detainees’ violations, citing a federal regulation that mandates secrecy.

According to an ICE report, there were 138 immigrant detainees at Jerome Combs on Nov. 7, 2017, 60 percent of whom were listed as criminals and the rest as noncriminals. ICE has three threat categories; 55 of the local detainees were not listed in any threat level.

Immigrant advocates say it’s important to note immigrants with migration-related offenses, such as illegal entry or illegal reentry, are classified as criminals.

Anderson acknowledged there is no guarantee the federal government will choose Immigration Centers of America to build an immigration detention center in Dwight.

ICE spokeswoman Nicole Alberico said this week her agency posted a request for information in 2012 for a new detention center from companies such as Immigration Centers of America. She said the decision to move forward on a detention center is pending.

“ICE has identified a need for an immigration detention facility within the greater Chicago area,” Alberico said in an email. “This proposed facility is part of the agency’s long-term nationwide effort to reform the current immigration detention system by improving the conditions of confinement, and by locating detainees closer to where they are apprehended so that they can be near their families, attorneys, community resources and the ICE Field Office.”

In an email, Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said the county is aware of the developments in Dwight. But he said everything is preliminary, and the process will be long.

“Other than that, the sheriff is better equipped to answer your questions. It is too early to know where this is heading in Dwight, if anywhere,” Wheeler said.

The county gets up to $1 million every month from its federal contracts, although it’s not clear how much of that comes from ICE. County auditor Jake Lee said information wasn’t separated out in the county’s accounting software, saying the sheriff probably had the information.

Sheriff Mike Downey didn’t return messages for comment.

IMPACT ON DWIGHT

Dave Volden, a member of Connect Kankakee, said a county board member was right to ask at a county committee meeting recently about the Plan B if the federal money dries up.

“Apart from our opposition to holding those detained by ICE here who have no criminal backgrounds, Connect Kankakee’s concern is that a major private detention center nearby could impact county finances by siphoning off detainees to be held there that might have otherwise been held in Kankakee,” Volden said in an email.

On its website, Immigration Centers for America lists just one immigration detention center — in Farmville, Va.

Recently, Dwight’s newspaper, The Paper, reported Immigration Centers of America is looking at an 88-acre parcel near Interstate 55 and Illinois Route 17. The center would house men awaiting immigration hearings and visa status determinations.

The center is expected to employ about 280 people, mostly full time, according to The Paper.

Anderson told the Daily Journal that Immigration Centers is expected to pay Dwight $1 per detainee per day. The company would pay the $1 for at least 75 percent of the 1,200 beds, even if that many weren’t filled, Anderson said. He estimated that would generate $273,000 to $438,000 per year.

The Paper reported that detainees would not have criminal records.

FACE-TO-FACE TIME?

Anderson told The Paper he wouldn’t call the center a jail because detainees are expected to have unlocked rooms, access to commissary areas, a gymnasium and an outdoor facility of exercise and sports. Also, he said, there will be no time limits when family can visit.

Immigrant advocates have pointed out that immigrants in the Kankakee County jail cannot see their loved ones face-to-face during visits. They can only communicate through video.

In a July 2018 interview, Downey said detainees can meet with religious personnel and their lawyers face-to-face.

“The problem with face-to-face is that if we open that for everyone, that becomes a personnel issue. We don’t have the personnel to search everyone coming into a secure jail,” Downey said. “We can’t convert this facility strictly into an ICE facility.”

A message for comment to an executive with Immigration Centers of America was not returned.

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