The proposed construction of a migrant detention center in a rural area 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Chicago has been rejected by pro-immigrant groups who see it as proof that the government is not considering reducing the deportations of undocumented foreigners.
Crete, a community of 8,000 residents, has 28 hectares (69 acres) of vacant land that could be used by a private company to build and run a 700-bed detention center, Mayor Michael Einhorn says.
The Illinois town was one of seven possible sites selected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to develop its plans to reform the detention system for undocumented migrants "emphasizing the health and safety of people in custody."
Although the matter is still in the negotiation process, debate over it arose among Crete residents with the support of outside groups, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or ICIRR.
"The possible center is a symptom of a greater problem in our immigration system, which deports thousands of people per year while immigration reform languishes in Congress," said Fred Tsao, ICIRR's policy director.
His group and others have been in solidarity with the resistance of Crete residents concerned by what they call the project's lack of transparency and the possible negative impact on property values.
"Would you want to buy a house next door to a prison?" one resident, Jill Hornick, said Monday at a community meeting to discuss the project, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Municipal authorities were contacted in 2010 by Corrections Corporation of America, which was interested in building and administering the detention center if it could get a federal contract to do so, the Tribune said, citing documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The center, according to the concept proposed to Crete, would not look like a traditional prison.
"But it will be a prison anyway," said activist Jorge Mujica, who says that ICE is seeking installations near Chicago due to the lack of cooperation from Cook County in holding undocumented migrants.
The new center would be a sign that President Barack Obama is intending to continue his deportation policy "without immigration reform or any intention of getting upset with Republicans in an election year."
ICE does not have a detention center in the Chicago area and rents space in prisons in neighboring counties.
The agency's plans are to consolidate the space and reduce the number of installations used to house detainees in the metropolitan area, ICE spokesperson Gail Montenegro said.
"Insofar as is possible, (the agency is seeking) to keep the detainees in the geographic area of their arrest to reduce the need for transfers and to facilitate access to their families, consulates or attorneys," she said in a statement sent to Efe.
Some 12,000 people were deported last year from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri, which are the states under the jurisdiction of the ICE office in Chicago.