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Plans for immigrant detention center in Elkhart County are on hold

A photo on CoreCivic's website shows a detention facility they built elsewhere in the country.

Plans to build an ICE detention center in Elkhart County have been pushed back.

CoreCivic, the private prison firm that petitioned for the site, just asked for more time to prepare ahead of their first meeting with a review committee.

This means the county commissioners won't hear a recommendation until March.

Between now and then community members and county officials are debating. Some say this ICE facility would be a great use of the vacant land, bringing jobs and income into the county. But opponents are fearful it could reduce the strong sense community that exists now.

"I've already had so many people tell me 'what should we be preparing? Should we be packing our bags?' And a lot of people who are in fear right now," said Marbella Chavez. "I really don't want to bring a detention facility here to our own backyards."

Chavez is fighting to stop CoreCivic from building in Elkhart County. She says her family has gone through a great deal to get their residency and have made their lives here.

"I think a lot of immigrants know -- even the ones that are legalized here -- that if they do have family members from out of the county who might want to come visit, they won't be visiting anymore because they know that ICE will be here," said Chavez.

The piece of land CoreCivic wants to develop is just off County Road 7 near the county jail and landfill.

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder says this is a "slam dunk location."

"From a land-use perspective, this is not really a difficult decision at all. So what becomes more difficult is more on the community values and the effect of this business on the economy," he said.

CoreCivic says the facility would bring 300 jobs and pay up to a million dollars in property taxes. But opponents argue there are already thousands of unfilled jobs in the county.

"Even though they are saying they're going to bring in a lot of money, we have proof that in other communities that has not been the case," said Chavez.

Three county commissioners will have the ultimate say in the coming months.

"So on one hand we want to be perceived as a welcoming community, but if we are going to be a welcoming community we can't tell a business we'd rather you go somewhere else," said Yoder. "So this will be a test for our community. It's a test on how welcoming we are even on some things that we might perceive as being not pretty."

Right now Yoder says he will be considering all of the data presented in the coming months before making a decision.

A bilingual meeting sponsored by the Coalition Against the Immigration Detention Center is happening tonight (Thursday).

Organizers say their goal is to inform the public and rally opposition.

It's happening at Concord Junior High School at 7 p.m.

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