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Keep private, for-profit detention facilities for immigrants out of Illinois

A bill pending in Illinois would ban private detention facilities lke the Adelanto Detention Center in California. | AP Photo/Richard Vogel

Ivette is a young Salvadoran mother who arrived in the U.S. last year after fleeing gang violence and abuse by her family and former partners. Upon arriving here, Department of Homeland Security agents separated her from her toddler son and placed her in a facility in Texas run by the private prison company CoreCivic.

Over the next eight months, Ivette endured conditions that seriously compromised her health. Temperatures in the facility were so cold that she constantly shivered, even those she was multiple layers of clothing. Guards verbally abused her and pressured her to sign away her rights. The food was inadequate and not nourishing.

Ivette began to experience headaches, insomnia, nausea, and depression, and developed a lump in her breast. Yet the medical staff ignored her condition and even accused her of lying. Ivette was alone, without her son and without the care and support that she needed.

OPINION

Ivette’s plight illustrates why we need to stop private prison companies from coming to Illinois. Since 1990, our state has barred the use of private prisons for criminal detention. This policy, however, does not apply to civil detention, such as the immigration custody in which Ivette was held. The abuse, neglect, and mistreatment that Ivette experienced is all too typical of private detention centers. These facilities make their profits by keeping their beds full and by cutting corners on food, medical care, and staff training. Private detention facilities also lack accountability: they are not subject to public records requests, and they are not answerable to taxpayers in the same way that publicly-run police departments or sheriffs are.

Yet private prison companies have been trying to build an immigration detention facility in the Chicago region for the past decade, including a new proposal for a facility in Dwight, Illinois. These facilities could house as many as 1,200 immigrants — immigrants who pose no danger to the community, and many of whom are merely seeking refuge in our country.

For these reasons we are proud to sponsor House Bill 2040, the Private Detention Facility Moratorium Act. This bill would bar local communities from contracting with private prison companies to operate any detention facilities, and from exchanging any payments with any such companies for purposes of detention. This bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Illinois House and now awaits action in the Illinois Senate. We are excited to work with the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois and the #NoICEDwight campaign to mobilize support for this bill throughout our state.

Ivette won her release from Homeland Security and has been reunited with her son in Chicago. They live in a house of hospitality run by the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, where she gets counseling and other support, and where she is free to come and go as she pleases. The house offers a more caring and humane setting than private, for-profit detention facilities, for people like Ivette seeking safety in the U.S.

We hope that our legislation will send a strong signal to the prison industry, to Homeland Security, and throughout the nation that no one should profit from human misery.

Kelly Cassidy is a state representative from the 14th District in Chicago. Robert Peters is a state senator from the 13th District in Chicago.

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