Small-town solidarity: The grassroots fight against immigrant detention centers
Industry representatives sit on the front row at the Feb. 25 meeting of the Dwight Village Council. Behind them are activists from the No ICE Dwight coalition. | No Ice Dwight

DWIGHT, Ill.—A few months ago, an effort was started by “No ICE Dwight,” a grassroots mobilization in Central Illinois, against a proposed private ICE detention center in the town of Dwight. Unable to persuade the town government to reject the proposed detention center by Immigrant Centers of America (ICA), both at the planning commission and town council meeting, Sonny Garcia with Illinois People’s Action (IPA) sought other strategies to combat the proposed plan. Despite Dwight’s approval, agreements between ICA, the federal government, and Dwight had not been passed.

Looking to other means, No ICE Dwight and their allies reached out to state legislators. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy signed on as the lead sponsor of House Bill 2040, created in direct response to ICA’s proposed facility. Illinois already maintained a ban on private prisons, but the language did not apply to “detention” facilities. The bill would place a ban on state and local governments from entering into any agreement related to the detention of individuals in a facility owned, managed, or operated in whole or in part by a private person or entity. This clear ban would take immediate effect when passed and put an end to ICA’s Dwight proposal as well as any future attempts in the state.

Organizing around HB 2040, No ICE Dwight petitioned supporters to fill out witness slips, contact their representatives, and to continue sharing their story. Their efforts paid off as it passed the House Labor and Commerce Committee 18-10, moving to the House Floor. By its third reading on April 10, it passed 85-26 with two not voting. From the House, the bill moved to the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Omar Aquino, and after its third reading, passed the State Senate on May 16, 34-14, with 11 not voting. The bill then sat on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for a little over a month before he signed it into law Fri., June 21 during an event at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Pritzker’s serendipitous timing combated President Trump’s announcement the same day of plans for ICE to conduct nationwide raids starting the following Sunday. Since delayed, Illinois residents breathed a cautious sigh of relief while still preparing for the worst.

Pritzker’s signature came as a celebration for many, specifically No ICE Dwight and their allies. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) became one of the lead organizers after the facility’s approval. Their efforts were not only focused on HB 2040 but also on the Illinois RISE Act, providing state financial aid to those who are ineligible for federal aid, and the Keep Illinois Families Together Act, limiting access of immigration enforcement to state facilities, all signed on the same day.

What Dwight should be to many is a lesson in how communities can mobilize on important issues. Mobilizing these communities allows for long and dedicated campaigns for or against issues that directly affect the people involved, often reaching out for additional support when needed. Locating allied groups and individuals and forming stronger connections were key in the campaign. There was a strong overlap among individuals involved across the groups and organizations taking action, many being active in ICIRR, IPA, local chapters of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), No ICE Dwight, and a few others to varying degrees. It was this grassroots network that created the strength to push legislators to act.

Activists from Illinois People’s Action, part of the No ICE Dwight coalition, rally outside the Dwight town hall in February. | No Ice Dwight

Illinois is not the only state that has claimed victory against ICA. The company continued looking for other locations to expand their operations. Shortly after Dwight’s approval despite protest, and perhaps seeing the looming troubles down the road, ICA placed a rezoning request with New Richmond, Wisc., on April 5, according to the town’s Facebook. It was picked up by No ICE Dwight quickly and more widely reported a few days later. Running into more opposition, the request was withdrawn a couple of weeks later, on April 19, ahead of the town’s April 23 meeting to discuss the proposal.

This is not the end. While Illinois may have created structural safeguards and Wisconsin strongly rejected the idea of accepting a facility, others are still open nationwide operating under inhumane conditions, private or not. Some have come out calling many of these detention facilities “concentration camps” as the similarities between the two become increasingly worrisome. Worse yet, the U.S.’s history does not ease concerns that these are a one-time occurrence or exception, rather an expectation when the most reactionary forces fall back on xenophobia and racism. Localities, states, and regions are committed to doing all they can to fight this type of hate and move forward.


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.