Local leaders representing major constituencies in Elkhart County linked arms with the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center on Tuesday at a press conference to show their support against the proposed detention center for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.Representatives from the local government, businesses, faith communities, the Latino community, the African-American community, DACA recipients, the legal community, retirees, and the medical community came together to share their own reasons as to why CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison owners, should not build a ICE detention center in Goshen.
News broke on Nov. 17 that CoreCivic was potentially proposing to build a 1,400-bed detention facility located on a plot of land on County Road 7 owned by Fir Properties LLC of Elkhart. On Dec. 4, CoreCivic submitted a detailed proposal to the Elkhart County Planning Committee.
From there, the proposal was left in the hands of Elkhart County Board of Commissioners, made up of Mike Yoder, Frank Lucchese and Suzanne Weirick, to vote whether to approve or refuse the proposal.
Since the proposal was released in mid-November, many community members have expressed their concerns. So much so that the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center, a group of approximately 3,500 person from northern Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, was created.
Richard Aguirre, Goshen College’s director of corporate and foundation relations and a co-coordinator of the Coalition, opened the press conference with a simple message: “We want to stop the immigrant prison from coming to Elkhart County. We don’t need it and we don’t want it because it will hurt Elkhart County’s residents.”
“We are speaking with one voice and we are calling on CoreCivic to withdraw its proposal or for the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners to reject it,” Aguirre said.
From there, 10 representatives of major constituencies spoke.
Marbella Chavez, co-coordinator of the Coalition, began with a personal statement about her life as the daughter of immigrants. Chavez raised the point that immigrants add to the community.
“You have continuously heard how valuable we are to your economy,” Chavez said. “We are business owners, we are home owners, we pay taxes, create jobs… We are professionals: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and innovators.”
Chavez then mentioned what could happen if the proposed detention center became a reality: “[Immigrants] fled towns that allowed the construction of detention centers and we are not scared to move again,” she said. “As immigrants, we have already once had to leave behind our homes to move to a place where we could better provide for our families and where we could protect our families, and if this means leaving Elkhart County, then we’ll do it.”
Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus also raised this concern: “The proposed facility would particularly threaten one of our growing markets of prospective students, namely our regional Latino students, who would feel less welcome in a county that would become known for one of the largest immigration detention centers in the United States,” said Stoltzfus. “Latinos currently make up 23 percent of our undergraduate enrollment.”
The last to speak was Dara Marquez, an undocumented immigrant from Apan, Hidalgo, Mexico. She mentioned a main concern of undocumented persons that come with the detention center: ICE raids.
“All of these realities look grim,” Marquez said, “and the fact that this is a possibility at all is infuriating, yes. But as an undocumented person and witness to the history of this country’s political and physical violence, I am not surprised or upset. I am ready to fight.”
Another concern of the representatives was Elkhart’s reputation.
H. Brent Curry, Elkhart 5th District Councilman said, “We have the second-largest county jail in the state… [This fact brings] a lot of uneasiness for quality of life in our area. To add a CoreCivic detention center to our area will take us back 60 years. Let’s do what’s best for Elkhart County and Indiana and reject this detention center.”
Evan Miller, CEO and co-owner of Hertzler Systems Inc. added, “We already have one of the largest county jails in the state. Placing a new facility adjacent to the current jail means our county will be known for its prisons, not for our innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Efforts against the CoreCivic facility will continue throughout the next month as the Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 7 comes closer. On Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. there will be a bilingual/bicultural letter-writing party. Other informational and letter-writing events will be planned within the near future as well.