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Concerns in Elkhart County about proposed immigration detention facility

An image of another CoreCivic facility elsewhere in the country. Courtesy: www.cca.com

New information on a proposal to build an immigration detention facility in Elkhart County.

It could be a regional ICE facility housing detainees who are waiting to be deported.

Right now plans to build it are still in the very early stages. A lot has to happen before it could be built.

The site for a regional detention facility for the immigration and customs enforcement agency

would be on property on County Road 7, across from the Elkhart County Jail and county landfill.

It would be built by a private firm, CoreCivic, out of Nashville.

The detention complex as envisioned would hold anywhere from 800 to 1,200 beds.

“The knowledge that we have right now is pretty limited,” said Mike Yoder, county commissioner. “What I understand the facility is to be is a minimum security facility that is used to temporarily hold people in transition. So that would be people after their court hearing and apparently awaiting deportation"."

To help CoreCivic work through the planning process for it, Commissioner Yoder was notified back in September about the proposed facility and was bound by confidentiality until now.

He knows that the building proposal will be controversial

“I am expecting we are going to have a pretty big concern in the community over this issue,” Yoder said. “Immigration issues and policies and enforcement are a pretty important topic for this community, and so I view this as an opportunity, for us to engage in this conversation.”

He says there are still a lot of steps that have to be covered to move this proposed project along, involving the county plan commission and county commissioners. The Core Civic company needs to file an application for the planning and zoning process.

“I expect we will work through this in a reasonable manner and a respectful manner,” said Yoder. “I am not sure what the commissioners will decide at this point. I can assure everyone that there’s just not enough information right now for anybody to really make any judgement.”

Yoder says there will be a hearing in December with the county plan commission to look into the proposal, and then in the third week of January county commissioners will weigh in on it.

Reaction

There's still a lot that would need to happen to bring that ICE facility to Elkhart County. Even the idea is stirring a lot of fear in the area.

Goshen has a pretty large Hispanic and Latino population.

It's part of the reason Goshen was named community of the year by the state chamber of commerce. The city is both diverse and cohesive.

Now people are worried what a facility like this would mean for the community.

"I think that whole dynamic could be upset by placing a giant prison here,” said Richard Aguirre, founder of the Elkhart County Hope Network.

"We don't know. Is it symbolic? Is it a scare tactic? What's going on in terms of why you would drive that into this area?" said Sam Centellas, executive director of La Casa de Amistad.

Whatever the reason, Hispanic and Latino community leaders say an immigration and customs enforcement facility would send a message that immigrants aren't welcome.

There is a concern that even legal residents will be stopped by immigration officials as they're going through town

"I believe if they were to build this facility, we would see an exodus of immigrants and people who support immigrants from Elkhart County,” said Aguirre.

Losing those workers and building the facility could make a big mess in Elkhart County even bigger.

"We have a critical shortage of employees,” said Aguirre. “Another facility that would hire 300 people would just contribute to that shortage. We also have a shortage of housing in Elkhart County, so that would compound that problem.”

The Elkhart County Jail is already gives Elkhart County the second largest facility in the state, outside of Indianapolis.

"Doubling that capacity, because that county jail's got a thousand beds, would cement the reputation of Goshen being a prison city or this area being a prison city," said Aguirre.

Some community leaders feel the facility would be an anti-immigration symbol.

"In terms of making a logistical location that would make sense, this is a far cry,” said Centellas. We're not close to anything. We're not close to any major cities, so it is interesting. The desire to want to put it in Elkhart County is very interesting."

Aguirre and Centellas are also concerned with the idea that the facility would be privately run. They say -- if such a detention center is to be built at all -- it needs to be operated by the government.

They say there's not enough transparency in private jails and prisons, and that could result in human rights violations.

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