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Illinois House panel advances bill to ban for-profit immigrant detention centers

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy speaks at a press conference Thursday at the Illinois State Capitol. Also pictured is Rep. Theresa Mah. The group discussed several pro-immigrant measures. | Blue Room Stream

SPRINGFIELD – A bill banning for-profit prisons in the state, including immigrant detention centers, advanced out of committee at the Illinois Capitol this week.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 2040, which passed 18-10 out of the House Labor and Commerce Committee Wednesday. She called it “critically important” to Illinois remaining “welcoming” to all people.

“There is an effort afoot to bring a private, for-profit ICE detention center to the state of Illinois,” she said at a Thursday press conference. “And yesterday we said, ‘Slow your role. Hold up here. That’s not who we are, that’s not how we operate. We don’t believe in making money out of putting humans in cages, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop the advance of this effort.’”

Recently, trustees in Dwight, a village about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, voted to annex and rezone 88 acres to be used for a detention center run by Virginia-based Immigration Centers of America, the Associated Press reported.

Cassidy’s bill would prohibit the state or any unit of local government from operating private detention facilities and would prohibit the entering of contracts, receiving payment or providing payment to a facility owned, managed or operated by a private company or person.

The bill would take immediate effect if passed by both houses and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. It has 19 co-sponsors in the House, including Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, a Cicero Democrat.

“Stopping these kinds of centers is about ensuring common dignity and humanity to people,” she said. “There is no evidence that these types of facilities save any money, and often provide no oversight or specialized care to those held there. This bill is a major step in the right direction when it comes to protecting immigrants and providing the proper care that every person deserves.”

Hernandez and Cassidy spoke in favor of HB2040 and other pro-immigrant legislation at the Thursday press conference with other immigrant rights advocates from the House.

Hernandez said she hoped to draw attention to 42,000 Illinoisans who are affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA.

“Without DACA, these young people lose the ability to study and work, and are subject to immediate deportation to countries many of them have never been to,” she said. “These young people, or so-called Dreamers, were brought into the United States by their parents when they were infants. They were raised in this country, educated in our local schools and often have no idea they are undocumented until they apply for a job, college or a driver’s license.”

Hernandez said the “Dreamers” pay taxes, contribute to the economy and are “American in every aspect except for one – on paper.”

The group, which included immigration lawyer and state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Glenview Democrat, urged federal action on passage of a clean “Dream Act.”

Members of the group also touted legislation such as allowing undocumented parents to designate legal guardians for their children should they be detained or deported; notary reform to increase fines for exploitative actions taken by notaries; and health coverage expansion to DACA recipients and legal residents that have been in the country for less than five years.