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Council reminded of opposition to any detention center

Updated: August 22, 2014 6:09AM



HOBART — A standing-room-only crowd packed last week’s City Council meeting, consisting largely of residents who impressed upon city leaders that opposition to a for-profit immigration detention center is not waning.

“I have going on 3,000 petitions. I thought you should know about it. Your people do not want a prison,” said Darlene Vassil, an active member of the Concerned Citizens of Hobart group formed in opposition to a possible detention center.

Vassil is one of a smaller number of Concerned Citizens of Hobart members who have been attending recent City Council meetings, asking for updates on The GEO Group’s plans for the former St. Sava hall site on 49th Avenue near Liverpool Road.

Council members said at a recent meeting they hadn’t heard from GEO in a while. No council member nor Mayor Brian Snedecor commented on GEO or the possibility of a detention center in the city at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Florida-based GEO Group, an operator and builder of for-profit immigrant detention centers and prisons, has not made a formal proposal to the city as yet, but it has begun meeting with city officials and organizations.

A representative for the group did not respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday.

Frank Smith, a Kansas resident who is an active opponent of The GEO Group and other for-profit operators, said on a visit to the 49th Avenue site he found no gates or chains preventing people from accessing the site and no “No Trespassing” signs.

He said six or seven buildings on the grounds were open and unsecured and there were piles of lumber with nails sticking up and the grass was waist-high.

“The GEO Group is not the future of this town,” Smith said.

Resident Robert Allen apologized to council members for accusations that have been made that some of them are benefiting from The GEO Group.

“They’re honest people,” Allen, a former Sanitary Board member, told the crowd.

He called The GEO Group opportunists, rather than villains, saying it was the federal government that made it possible for for-profit detention centers and prisons to operate.

Allen also expressed concern that the tens of thousands of unaccompanied undocumented children crossing the border from Central America would end up in Hobart, stretching the police and fire departments and leaving questions as to who would be responsible for their medical care. A number of the children have already been transferred to Chicago facilities.

“In this case, you need to be responsive to your people,” Allen said.



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