Pritzker bans private detention centers

Immigration battle finds Illinois, Chicago on the front lines against Trump

“Illinois is and always will be a welcoming state,” said Gov. Pritzker in signing a law banning private detention centers. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

“Illinois is and always will be a welcoming state,” said Gov. Pritzker in signing a law banning private detention centers. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Gov. Pritzker signed a law banning private detention centers in Illinois, as Chicago joined the state in taking action against President Trump in his continued war on immigration.

The moves came as Trump threatened nationwide raids by immigration agents to round up undocumented U.S. residents, specifically mentioning Chicago. In response, Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared the city’s gang database and other police records off limits to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Trump called off the raids last weekend, and demanded that Democrats settle the problem, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin scoffed at that, tweeting that Central Americans leaving their destabilized countries to seek refuge in the United States constitute a “humanitarian crisis he created by threatening to round up families unless Congress passes his anti-immigrant bill.”

On Friday, Pritzker signed House Bill 2040 into law. It bans private detention centers in the state, in response to downstate Dwight near Pontiac mulling the conversion of a former women’s prison into an immigrant detention center. “Specifically, the bill prohibits state, county, and local governments from entering any agreement or making any financial transactions with a private detention facility,” according to a news release put out by the Governor’s Office.

“Illinois is and always will be a welcoming state," Pritzker said in a statement. "Let me be perfectly clear: the state of Illinois stands as a firewall against Donald Trump's attacks on our immigrant communities. In the face of attempts to stoke fear, exploit division, and force families into the shadows, we are taking action. We will not allow private entities to profit off of the intolerance of this president. We will not allow local police departments (to) act as an extension of ICE.”

Dwight lost 450 jobs and an estimated $50 million in annual economic impact when the women’s prison closed in 2013. According to a National Public Radio report out of Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, Dwight President Jared Anderson was receptive earlier this year to a proposed $20 million federal detention center for undocumented immigrants, to be placed in the former prison. Anderson said it could bring back 280 jobs.

Other local residents shied from that, however, especially given the Trump administration’s Draconian actions separating family members seeking to enter the country. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, lead sponsor of the bill, cheered Pritzker’s signing, saying, “Illinois becomes first state to ban private immigration detention centers.”

Lightfoot, meanwhile, echoed Pritzker in explaining how Chicago would not aid federal immigration agents should they attempt to stage raids in the city, saying, “We are all aware of the threat from President Trump regarding raids by ICE, and in response Chicago has taken concrete steps to support our immigrant communities. Chicago will always be a welcoming city and a champion for the rights of our immigrant and refugee communities.”

Chicago Aldermen Rossana Rodriguez and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who represent Hispanic wards on the city’s West Side, counseled local residents over the weekend on how to respond to any ICE raids. Rodriguez told residents to not even open the door to ICE agents, saying, “Law-enforcement officials need a warrant signed by a judge to enter your home, and ICE warrants are not signed by judges.”

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Chicago chimed in, saying, “Everyone in the U.S. has constitutional rights and protections, regardless of immigration status. It is crucial for our community members to know their rights and to find local organizations with resources and support. As an immigrant, I stand in solidarity with everyone — immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers — who come to America looking for a better life. As a member of Congress, I will continue working to protect immigrants in my community and hold this administration accountable for its cruel family-separation policies.”