Gary | About two dozen protesters at Gary/Chicago International Airport Monday made it known they do not want a GEO Group Inc. detention center for undocumented immigrants located across the road from the airport.
Members of the Northwest Indiana Federation, Black Lives Matter NWI - Gary, and Gary residents likened the detention centers to "slave camps" and said the city of Gary should have nothing to do with it. They made their plea to the Gary airport authority board, which met at 11 a.m in the airport administration building.
"Why would Gary, a city that is 90 percent black, with its peoples' own history of slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and continuing systemic racism, choose to be any party to targeting, terrorizing and profiteering from detention, enslavement and deportation of brown and black immigrants in America?" Northwest Indiana Federation Executive Director Cheryl Rivera asked authority board members.
It was not only the Northwest Indiana Federation, a church group, and Black Lives Matter that were concerned Monday.
The Gary Jet Center, an aircraft charter and maintenance facility at the airport, has concerns the detention center's location could block expansion of the airport's crosswind runway, which has been a long-term goal of the airport, according to Gary Jet Center Operations Manager Mike Partin.
The proposed facility for undocumented immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be built and operated by GEO Group under plans now taking shape. It could house nearly 800 detainees, including 192 high-security ones such as convicted felons.
Protesters said their action Monday is just the first of many to come, including one planned for a Gary Zoning Board meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday. They point out proposed immigrant detention facilities have already been rejected in Joliet, Crete and now seemingly Hobart, where GEO was actively working on siting a facility.
Airport Authority Chairman Stephen Mays told protesters the authority is a government entity and he understands the GEO Group immigrant detention center would be built on private land. He said the authority would take the comments under advisement.
When questioned by a reporter later, both Mays and Airport Director Dan Vicari said the airport authority currently has no involvement with GEO Group's plans.
The airport currently hosts weekly charter flights operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that take undocumented immigrant jail inmates to the southern border for deportation.
In addition to asking for a zoning variance to use the land for a detention center, GEO Group would also have to respond and win the contract for such a center by responding to a request for proposals expected to be issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This story was corrected from an earlier version.