Mayor affirms stance against immigration holding center
Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org April 13, 2014 10:02PM
Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor speaks to citizens Sunday afternoon about his decision to oppose a possible immigration detention center in the city. | Teresa Auch Schultz/Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 15, 2014 6:19AM
Opponents of a proposed immigration holding center in Hobart applauded Sunday afternoon as Mayor Brian Snedecor affirmed his stance against it.
The mayor spoke to the Concerned Citizens of Hobart group a day after news leaked that he sent a letter to the GEO Group, Inc., saying that the city no longer supported the company’s plan to turn the former St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church on 49th Street into a for-profit immigration detention center. GEO, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has not filed to rezone the property but has said it wants to build a detention center there.
“I’m not going to sit up here and talk negatively about GEO,” Snedecor told the audience at First Unitarian Church in Hobart. “(But) I think we’ve just sent a message to them that they need to look elsewhere if they want to build a center.”
The mayor says in the letter, which was read during the meeting, that he told GEO from the beginning that the company should reach out to the community and build a “positive rapport,” especially as some citizens would likely be against the project.
That never happened, however, and the company has never shared details of the project with the community, he says in the letter. Also, the city has also had to tell the company it needs to either destroy or repair the former church.
“The uncertainty of your intentions coupled with your failure to engage our community has led to a loss in confidence in GEO,” the letter says.
The mayor wrote that the city would continue to treat GEO fairly should the company proceed with the process to build a detention center but that the city would not support it. The mayor suggests that an area closer to an airport or highways and away from a residential area would be better for the proposed center.
“...The administration will not be an advocate for the project, and will oppose it,” Snedecor says in the letter.
Pablo Paez, vice president of corporate relations for GEO, said the federal government does not have any formal proposals for a facility in the area right now but that company is still interested in Northwest Indiana because of its infrastructure and workforce.
“The GEO Group is invested in Hobart because we believe there are opportunities to promote economic development and create high-paying union jobs in Hobart,” Paez said in a statement.
Snedecor did tell the audience Sunday that he has spoken with some people who support the detention center or at least think that it should go through the full process with the city.
However, he added that when he spoke with local attorney John Bushemi, who is representing GEO Group on the project, Snedecor told Bushemi he would not hold off on taking that stance.
“I told him no, that letter was sent out and that’s where I stand,” he said.
Thomas DuBois, who led the meeting, said he was excited to hear the news, especially as people in other parts of the country have also recently protested against other prisons and detention centers owned by GEO.
“That’s why we were so happy today to… have read the letter the mayor wrote,” he said.
Loy Roberson, who lives near the site, praised Snedecor for listening to the citizens’ concerns and his letter. He said he questioned the proposed site, which sits next to Robertson Park and a senior citizen residential complex.
“You want to say this is a good place to put a prison?” Roberson said. “I don’t think so.”
Concerned Citizens of Hobart thanked Snedecor in a written response and called on U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky to likewise take a stand against the project.
The group is still holding an open house on the issue on April 27 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hobart Arts League, 3850 Howard St. Snedecor reminded people at the meeting Sunday that his letter has not ended any possible detention center and that it could still move forward.
“The fight is not necessarily over,” he said.