DWIGHT — Dwight village trustees voted 5-2 to annex 88 acres Monday night as a possible site for a controversial federal detention center that would house immigrants.
Immigration Centers of America is looking at building a $20 million detention center on property south of Illinois 17 and east of Interstate 55. The facility would be managed by U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE).
About 300 people attended the meeting, which was moved to Dwight High School to accommodate the crowd. The audience included several opponents who gathered at the Amtrak station and marched to the high school.
While village President Jared Anderson previously spoke of economic benefits for the village, opponents spoke at the meeting against federal immigration policy and the role such a facility would play in it.
After the vote, opponents of the project shouted down the board, causing Anderson to abruptly call an end to the meeting.
They shouted obscenities at the board and several even approached board members. They were rebuffed by the increased police presence at the meeting.
Anderson previously said he had been negotiating a deal to bring ICA to Dwight for two years and he thinks it would benefit the village in several ways.
“We will have 250 to 400 construction trades people building the facility,” he said. “A project of this size would take well over a year to be built, and money will be spent at gas stations and restaurants during construction.”
Anderson said a new sewer line would be built from the facility to the sewer plant, and that would help with future construction in northwestern Dwight.
Anderson also said the facility would be fully staffed with 360 positions, and that would rival the economic input the village once had with the women’s prison that closed in 2013.
“The total economic output could be in excess of $45 million per year locally, which is tax money for schools, the village and Livingston County,” he said.
Gabriel Marquez-Benitez, a senior organizer for Detention Watch Network of Chicago, spoke against it.
“The ICA is not welcome in Dwight, in Illinois, in the Midwest or in any part of our country," Marquez-Benitez said.
The 1,200-bed facility would hold men awaiting immigration hearings. They would be considered noncriminal detainees and would have access to workout facilities, worship areas and legal information, Anderson said.
"I am concerned because this is a for-profit corporation and there is something unsettling about someone having an economic interest in incarcerating people, and I think that affects the American justice system," said Janice Jayes, a resident of Champaign who teaches at Illinois State University in Normal.
Dwight resident Rodney Conner told the board he had put a lot of thought into the proposal, which he supports.
"I listened to protesters with an open mind," he said. "I feel this is a complex situation that we are not at liberty to figure out here. But I urge you to take this proposal for the good of Dwight."
Mark Scott of Dwight also supported the project.
"I ask that you have this detention center and not be intimidated by these protesters who have no vested interest in Dwight."