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Chicago suburb rejects immigrant detention center

A Chicago suburb has rejected a plan to build to build a federal immigrant detention center in the community, putting a stop to a project that generated months of protests by residents and immigrant rights activists.

Village trustees in Crete, 35 miles south of Chicago, voted unanimously Monday night to block the project, said Crete President Michael Einhorn, who had hoped the center would bring hundreds of jobs to the community of about 8,000 people.

The move followed a failed attempt last month by Illinois lawmakers to block the detention center.

Federal immigration officials had promoted the proposed facility as a new, more humane place to hold low-risk illegal immigrants slated for deportation. But residents worried that the center would depress their property values and pose a security threat.

"There hasn't been community support for a while," village trustee Daniel Bachert told the Chicago Tribune.

Activists even penned legislation that would have prohibited any privately-run detention centers in Illinois. It sailed through the Illinois Senate but failed in the House.

Still, it appears that objections to the site were widespread.

"Crete is a wonderful small town with antique shops, small businesses and Balmoral racetrack," said U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., in a statement. "A prison would have changed that image forever."

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked Crete as a potential site for the facility last year, Einhorn said. The plan was to hire a private company called Corrections Corporation of America to build and operate a medium-security facility to house more than 700 immigrants awaiting deportation.

"Up into the very end, I think everybody including myself was on the fence about this one," Einhorn told the Tribune.

ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said in a statement that the agency selected Crete after talking to local governments throughout the Chicago area, and it was seeking a place to hold detainees closer to their place of apprehension and immigration proceedings. With Crete officially not interested, the agency will start looking at proposals from other local governments, he said.

The idea of a private company running a detention facility was one of the things that generated criticism from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which says such companies try to maintain high levels of incarceration to increase profits.

In one memorable protest, activists marched for 35 miles from Chicago to the site in Crete. Protesters also flooded village council meetings.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which organized many of the rallies, applauded the village for listening to the protesters.

"These voices have spoken loudly and clearly that we do not want a new immigration detention center in Crete, that breaking up immigrant families is wrong, and that companies like CCA that profit from detaining people are not welcome in our communities," the group said.

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