On C.R. 7, just outside Goshen, lies a property which has existed as farmland owned by Fir Properties LLC of Elkhart, up until now. However, this property could potentially become the location of a detention center for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.The company interested in buying the property is CoreCivic of Nashville, Tennessee, one of the largest for-profit prison owners in the United States. CoreCivic owns over 70 facilities, located in 20 states throughout the U.S. They currently house over 70,000 inmates. The proposed facility in Elkhart would house 800-1,200 inmates.
The detention center would be used to hold undocumented persons while they await deportation, after they have been adjudicated by ICE in Chicago.
News of the potential ICE detention center broke on Nov. 17, by Mike Yoder, Elkhart county commissioner. According to the Goshen News, Yoder was informed of CoreCivic’s proposal in the early fall, but did not share the news until the 17th.
As of right now, there is only the possibility of a proposal if CoreCivic decides to purchase the C.R. 7 property – the company is currently looking at a handful of properties surrounding Chicago within a 180-mile radius.
If a proposal is unveiled, CoreCivic will have to file an application for a change of zoning, as well as a planned unit development with the county plan commission.
From there, the commission will decide whether they find the proposal to be a favorable or unfavorable recommendation. Then Yoder, Frank Lucchese and Suzanne Weirick, all three commissioners, will vote to approve the detention center.
An application is expected to be filed in December. The commission would then consider the proposal in January. If the proposed detention center is approved, construction is expected to begin in spring of 2018 and open as early as 2020.
According to KPC News, approximately 12,500 undocumented persons live in Elkhart County, making such a facility a threat to many in the area.
The newly-formed Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center finds this issue to be one of their main concerns.
The group stated, “Most undocumented immigrants go to school, work and live [in Elkhart County] in peace, contributing greatly to our economy and our cultural and social life. This prison will drive them away.”
A proposed upside to the facility includes more employment opportunities – at least 300 available positions. However, Elkhart County currently has over 9,000 unfilled jobs, according to the Elkhart County Economic Development Corporation.
There has been an uprising of opposition to the proposed facility in the Goshen community.
Despite heavy rain and cold temperatures, about 300 persons gathered at the Elkhart County Courthouse on Nov. 18 to protest the possible CoreCivic detention center.
Richard Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations and founder of Elkhart County HOPE network, said to the hundreds in attendance: “We believe that stopping this prison will help our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
On the Facebook page for the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center, Aguirre also posted an update on Nov. 24 about the group’s work thus far.
The update said: “It seems hardly possible that it’s been just a week since we learned that CoreCivic... wants to build an immigration detention facility in Elkhart County. While no application has been filed, a growing coalition in opposition – 1,326 members strong – has formed from throughout Elkhart County, Fort Wayne, South Bend, northern Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Beyond.”
President Rebecca Stoltzfus also commented on the potential prison in an email sent to the entire Goshen College campus.
In her email, President Stoltzfus said, “I know that this issue has raised new fears and uncertainty in what is already an anxious time. Be assured that I and other campus leaders are actively working, thinking and praying about how we can best support you.”
The Coalition plans to host another event to help prevent the detention center on this Thursday at 6:30 at Our Lady of the Road in South Bend. At the event, attendees will learn about the proposed construction of the ICE facility, write letters to the county commissioners and prepare for ongoing resistance for months to come. Dinner will also be served.
Goshen College is also hosting a meeting for information and discussion on Dec. 6 at 8:15 p.m. in Newcomer 17.
President Stoltzfus will host the meeting, along with other community leaders to answer questions and inform the GC community.