Council approves ICE immigrant prison in central Illinois
Members of the Dwight town council face the public, including dozens of demonstrators opposed to a proposed immigrant detention facility to be run by a private corporation. | No ICE Dwight

DWIGHT, Ill.—Activists from the “No ICE Dwight” coalition rallied here on Monday, March 11, for the town council’s vote on a $20 million private ICE detention facility. Proposed by the Immigrant Centers of America (ICA), construction of the facility was approved in February by the town’s planning commission and then went to the full council for consideration.  Following the planning commission’s 3-2 vote, the town council approved the facility 5-2 in an upsetting, yet unsurprising, high profile vote. The proposal now goes to the federal government for final approval and contracting.

Ahead of the vote, more than 300 activists from Dwight, Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, Chicago, and other areas gathered inside and outside the Dwight High School gymnasium to voice their opposition for the planned facility and urged council members to vote no. Sonny Garcia (Illinois People’s Action and No ICE Dwight organizer), Gabriela Marquez-Benitez (Detention Watch Network Chicago),

Adam Heenan of the Bloomington-Normal chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America spoke out against the role capitalism and the drive for profits was playing in creating division over the facility, stating, “We believe that the choice between low-salary trauma-inducing work and liberty for all is a false choice. This struggle in Dwight is not unique but rather another proxy battle against the exploitative nature of capitalism that needlessly pits working class people against one another.”

Central Illinois ACLU President Thomas Cullen spoke against the expansion of ICE, saying, “We oppose the expansion of ICE because it makes our communities less safe and it presents us choices like this.” He then stated that this proposition would only bring Dwight low-wage jobs “and maybe a sewer.” He said the No ICE Dwight activists were in it for the long haul, encouraging others to continue organizing.

Bloomington city council candidate Jenn Carrillo, an immigrant herself, asked the town of Dwight to kick out the real outsiders from their community—the private corrections corporation ICA—after complaints from some residents that not all the activists were not from Dwight and therefore did not have a vested interest in the community. “This is the game that corporations in cahoots with opportunistic politicians have been playing for decades now, to serve their own interests and line their own pockets. They change the rules of the game to make it cheaper and more profitable for corporations to leave places like this and go to places like where I come from, leaving communities like this barren and unable to support a dignified life for their people.”

Carrillo continued, saying, “These same corporations then invaded our home countries to extract all the possible wealth from our people and the earth. And once they have sucked us dry, they move on to the next… To keep the system afloat…we are told we are each other’s enemy. Immigrants are told to avoid communities like Dwight because of how backward and racist they are, and residents in this community are told that immigrants and refugees like us are the culprits of their suffering.”

Despite the outcome of the vote, activists remain determined to stop the facility from becoming a reality. Options on the table, according to Sonny Garcia of Illinois People’s Action, involve the defunding of Homeland Security through legislative advocacy, encouraging divestment from the private prison industry, and continued work targeting contracts given to private companies to detain immigrants and other prisoners.

A recent study found that over 100 inmates died from the late 1990s to 2014 in private prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The situation in Dwight illustrates the lengths private prisons are willing to go to and the tactics they will use to expand their influence and grow their “market.” Dwight, like other places targeted for such facilities, is a rural, economically-depressed town with few job opportunities for its citizens. Those in the areas surrounding Dwight are faring even worse. After its proposals to build the facility were defeated in other more populated locations, ICA looked to areas that would be desperate for any sort of job creation.

Despite an Illinois ban on private prisons, the ICA’s facility in Dwight would be contracted with the federal government, which means it would not fall under the purview of the state prohibition. It is unclear at this time whether the federal government will eventually award such a contract. As of this writing, ICA has yet to finalize a contract with either the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.


Zach Carlson
Zach Carlson

Zach Carlson is a graduate student and full-time worker at Illinois State University, where he is pursuing a masters in history, specializing in left and labor history. A self-proclaimed nerd, casual outdoorsmen, and wearer of many hats, Zach looks to move on to his Ph.D. He is also a member of Industrial Union 620 with the Industrial Workers of the World.