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About 150 attend meeting on possible immigrant detention center

Hobart resident Tom DuBois talks about types jobs thmight be offered an immigrant detenticenter while Fred Tsao Illinois Coalitifor Immigrant

Hobart resident Tom DuBois talks about the types of jobs that might be offered at an immigrant detention center while Fred Tsao, of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Reform listens. | Karen Caffarini/For the Post-Tribune

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Updated: February 18, 2014 11:18AM



HOBART — About 150 people attended an educational forum Sunday to learn about a Florida-based company that might want to build a for-profit immigrant detention center in the city.

A number of those attending the forum at Augustana Lutheran Church left vowing to do what they can to make sure the center never opens.

“I don’t want this. I will call every single person on this list and tell them not to put this in. For any for-profit company to detain individuals, it’s not a healthy situation,” Kathy Bartley, of Hobart, said.

Members of Concerned Citizens of Hobart passed out pamphlets listing the phone numbers of Mayor Brian Snedecor and City Council members, urging people to contact those officials, as well as Board of Zoning Appeals members, all of whom would ultimately decide whether the GEO Group, a for-profit prison builder, could build a detention center on the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church property it purchased last year.

The GEO Group has not indicated it wants to build a detention center, or anything else, on the site as yet. The company did not respond to telephone calls and an email message seeking comment for this story.

Council members Jerry Herzog, D-1st, and P. Lino Maggio, D-3rd, as well as the mayor’s assistant, Robert Fulton, attended the forum.

“I want to hear the whole story,” said Maggio, who said he’s done some research of his own on the company.

He pointed out there are no plans before the council at this point, so he couldn’t comment on how he feels about having a GEO facility in the city.

Presenters at the forum made these allegations about how GEO operates:

The facilities are dangerous, underfunded and mismanaged; employees are underpaid; the facilities are understaffed, which can make them unsafe; sexual abuse of staff and inmates is rampant; inmates’ medical care is inadequate; and the development would hurt the local environment.

“We need to stop companies like GEO from taking advantage of our immigrant population. They are all our brothers and sisters,” Sister JoAnn Persch, of the Sisters of Mercy, said, drawing applause.

Fred Tsao, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Reform, said GEO’s net income in 2012 was $390 million on total revenues of $1.5 billion. Yet Hobart resident Tom DuBois said a GEO listing on Career Builder showed the company paid $10 an hour for an employee who “needed to be able to have a high tolerance of mental stress.”

The Rev. Charles Strietelmeier, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church, said there are many questions surrounding such a facility.

“As a country we imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other place on earth. ... Is it right for a company to profit on this? What oversight do they live under,” Strietelmeier asked. “Will our minorities live under undue attention as the company fishes for tenants?”

Local environmentalist Sandy O’Brien said the 40 acres purchased by GEO includes many ancient oak trees and could be returned to wetlands.

“Nature deserves to be protected,” O’Brien said.

Individuals attending the forum wanted to know: where waste from the facility would go; where people released from the facility would go if no one picks them up; whether whole families are incarcerated, and if so, what school would the children attend; and, if one detention facility is approved, would the city be approached by operators of others?

O’Brien said the waste would go to Gary and stormwater would head east across Liverpool.

A follow-up meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 23 at First Unitarian Church, 497 Main St., Hobart.



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