THE LATEST: Company withdraws request for Elkhart County immigrant detention center

ROGER SCHNEIDER | THE GOSHEN NEWSRichard Aguirre, co-coordinator of the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center, holds a yard sign the group created and displayed at a press conference Jan. 16.

Roger W. Schneider

GOSHEN — A request to rezone land in Elkhart County to allow the construction of a $100 million immigrant detention facility has been withdrawn.

According to Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, CoreCivic officials informed the three county commissioners shortly before 11 a.m. Monday that they would withdraw the petition to rezone farmland along C.R. 7 for the detention facility.

CoreCivic spokesman Steven Owen said, “I can confirm that our company has withdrawn its application ... Throughout this process, we have been assessing whether the Elkhart community would be a good fit for this project, just as local officials have been assessing the potential impact to the community. Our assessment has led us to this decision, and we appreciate the feedback from Commissioner Yoder and others during this process.”

CoreCivic’s Managing Director Marcelo Ariola wrote the request for withdrawal, which briefly states, “After careful consideration, CoreCivic has decided to withdraw its application for the map amendment.”

Another sentence thanks Elkhart County Planning Department staff for their professionalism. The request was scheduled to be heard by the Elkhart County Plan Commission at its Feb. 8 meeting.

Yoder said he doesn’t expect the commissioners to make any formal statement about the withdrawal of the plan.

CoreCivic, a Nashville, Tennessee, company that builds and operates private prisons, told The Goshen News last fall that the idea for the immigrant detention center came from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s request for information about such a facility. ICE published that request last October. ICE was seeking information on possible facilities within 100 miles of its Chicago office, according to that request.

CoreCivic had proposed building a $100 million facility that would eventually be expanded to hold up to 1,400 detainees. The company would have paid about $1 million a year in property taxes for the facility, according to Yoder.

COMMISSIONER REACTION

Shortly after announcing CoreCivic's plans to withdraw, Yoder said commissioners most likely wouldn’t make a combined statement and would now turn their focus to other county projects.

“The only thing we could say is that CoreCivic was good to work with throughout this process,” Yoder said. “We always had good communications with them and that is demonstrated by them calling the commissioners ahead of time to let us know about their decision.”

OPPONENTS’ INFLUENCE

Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who wrote a letter last week opposing the construction of the detention center and gained a number of co-signers from the business community, was pleased with the company’s decision to leave the county.

“(I’m) obviously pretty happy they decided to move on and very grateful for the amount of community members, businesses leaders and elected officials for their work to benefit our county," he said.

After Stutsman published his letter with the names of the co-supporters, Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese on Friday issued a statement opposing the project and the Republican president of the Goshen City Council, Brett Weddell confirmed the four Republicans on the council would vote for a resolution to support Stutsman’s letter.

AGUIRRE: 'WE WON!'

Richard Aguirre, a local advocate for immigrant rights and who co-coordinator the Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Center, posted on his Facebook page Monday morning after hearing the news “WE WON! WE WON! WE WON!”

The coalition formed in November after the community heard about CoreCivic’s plan. Just over 3,600 people joined the coalition, held rallies, prayer vigils, information meetings and created yard signs, stickers and buttons. They also dug into the issues surrounding the proposal.

“We were hoping to have this kind of effect,” Aguirre said in an interview Monday.

He believes the coalition created a safe environment for local business leaders to oppose the detention center because members pointed out that many immigrant workers would leave the county if ICE had a presence at a local detention center. That stance lessened the influence of national immigration policies on local business leaders, according to Aguirre.

“I knew there were people in the business community and non-profits who opposed this, but it would be hard for them to come out to say that,” he said. “And I thought it was very courageous for them to do that.”

Aguirre was referring to the business owners who signed Stutsman’s letter last week.

Politics also played a role in the CoreCivic debate, according to Aguirre.

“When we first said we are going to oppose this there were people who said you would not win on this because Goshen and Elkhart County have such a strong Republican presence,” Aguirre said, citing the county’s voters approximate 63.25 percent support for President Donald Trump in last year’s election. “But we thought we could win.”

He said the county is home to the second-largest Indiana population of people eligible for DACA. And those young people are playing an important role in the local economy, according to Aguirre. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a federal program that allows young people who were brought to the United States as undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. The continuation of DACA is at the heart of the ongoing government shutdown.

“Even those who vote Republican ... are coming to realize that the immigrant population is a benefit to our community. I really believe that,” he said.

The coalition also used social media to spread its message, according to Aguirre, and gained a lot of traction by doing so. He said in the past 28 days the detention center issue had 5,400 posts on Facebook. In addition, coalition supporters were writing letters and making phone calls, according to Aguirre.

Moving forward, Aguirre said he would like the coalition members to have a continuing role in educating the public about the positive impact they believe immigrants are making in Elkhart County.

Roger Schneider can be reached at rschneider@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 309. Follow Roger on Facebook and also on Twitter @rschneider_TGN

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