On Monday morning, Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder informed the public that CoreCivic, a private prison company, had chosen to withdraw their zoning request to build a 250,000-square-foot ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention facility in Elkhart County.This announcement followed a groundbreaking letter last week from local business leaders, demonstrating a lack of economic support for the facility and issuing a call for CoreCivic to withdraw their proposal.
Signees of the letter include Goshen mayor Jeremy Stutsman, local chambers of commerce and prominent business leaders of local communities.
Announced in fall of 2017, CoreCivic’s plans to create an ICE facility in Elkhart County have been incredibly controversial since the beginning. The proposed facility would’ve been located in close proximity to two landfills, as well as the 1,000-bed Elkhart County Correctional Complex. Opposition to the proposal was massive and covered concerns over matters of immigration, the private prison system, jobs and the goals of a “vibrant” community.
Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus released a statement on Jan. 18 regarding the proposed facility. In it, she publicly opposed the proposal, pointing to the negative effects the detention center would have on recruiting creative talent to the College, how it may threaten the student population and problems it may cause in retaining Goshen employees.
Stoltzfus wrote, “The withdrawal of the proposal for a privately-run, for-profit ICE Detention Center allows our community and our county to continue to be hospitable to a wide variety of newcomers and visitors, and to focus our economy towards enterprises that are truly productive and vital.”
Richard Aguirre, Goshen College’s director of corporate and foundation relations and a co-coordinator of the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center believes CoreCivic made a wise decision.
“CoreCivic’s decision to withdraw its proposal for an immigration detention center ends an immediate threat to immigrants and to our community’s efforts to make Elkhart County a welcoming place that values diversity,” said Aguirre. “We now can continue to seek higher-wage industries and develop quality of life improvements so we can attract more young people to stay here or move here to pursue their occupations or vocations.”
While County Commissioner Suzie Weirick has stated that CoreCivic did not provide a reason for withdrawal, many, including Aguirre perceive this recent action as a display of how the voice of the people can have power.
“Our community has spoken with a united voice because there was a widespread consensus that an immigration detention center wasn’t needed and would be harmful,” said Aguirre. “Although many of the arguments were centered around economic and quality of life issues, there is no question that many leaders rejected the detention center because it would have led to an exodus of immigrants.”
Aguirre believes what CoreCivic most underestimated was the ability of social justice advocates in Elkhart County, especially those affiliated with Goshen College, to develop an effective campaign and to generate widespread opposition.
In just two months, the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Detention Center created an organization with a membership of 3,600 people throughout Indiana as well as Illinois and Michigan. The Coalition also collaborated with activists seeking to stop detention centers in other parts of the country.
“I believe our campaign generated such a high level of opposition that it made it easier and safer for local business, civic and government leaders to come out against the detention center,” said Aguirre.
“Now that we’ve prevailed, we’ve given hope to immigrants and their supporters throughout the nation and proven that a grassroots coalition can succeed against a major corporation in a Republican-controlled county,” he said. “This is a victory with national significance.”
Aguirre would like to express his gratitude to Goshen College for supporting his efforts to lead the opposition to the detention center, especially President Stoltzfus.
“When it comes to peacemaking and social justice, that’s the best place to be — providing principled leadership for our community, state, country and world. President Stoltzfus did that.
The Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center is sponsoring a Community Victory Celebration at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 27, in the Fellowship Hall of College Mennonite Church. There will be snacks, drinks, music and speeches. Among the speakers: President Stoltzfus.