Anti-GEO protest (copy)

Opponents of a proposed GEO Group Inc. immigrant detention center attend a Gary City Council meeting in May 2016 at City Hall.

A multinational operator of prisons and detention facilities that failed in its attempts to build an immigrant processing facility in Gary two years ago is apparently eyeing a Newton County site.

The GEO Group wanted to construct the 800-bed facility on land across from the Gary/Chicago International Airport. Following strong local opposition, the Gary City Council denied a request for variances on the property that was to be used for the detention center. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in October 2017 issued a request for information on building detention sites that could serve the city of Chicago. The National Immigrant Justice Center then filed a Freedom of Information Act asking for the company names and locations where they would build a facility. 

The response it received from ICE on May 4 included information that GEO is proposing a newly constructed 800-bed facility in Newton County, 66 miles from Chicago. The location in Newton County was not listed.

Lisa Koop, NIJC's associate director of legal services who oversees the Goshen office, said they represent clients across the state in Indiana, including Newton County. Their concerns would be similar to those voiced in Elkhart County, Gary and Hobart.

"I think community members in Newton will have the same concerns that community members in the other counties had," she said. "We don't want to be identified as prison communities, much less places where immigration detention facilities are the centerpiece of community life. It's not who we are as Hoosiers and it's not good for the community."  

GEO owns property in Hobart, but has faced strong opposition there for any type of detention center. 

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In January CoreCivic, another private prison management company, scrapped plans to build a detention center in Elkhart County following local opposition.

CoreCivic, like GEO, had responded to the ICE request and proposed in Elkhart a 1,152-bed facility, 115 miles from the ICE's Chicago field office.

Samuel Love, an educator, artist and community organizer based in Gary, said he has reached out to friends and contacts in Newton County and would expect a local response against the facility.

"Certainly we would support their organizing in any way," he said. 

ICE officials responded in a statement to The Times on Wednesday they have identified a need for an immigration detention facility within the greater Chicago area. The statement said the proposed facility is part of the agency’s long-term nationwide effort to reform the current immigration detention system by improving the conditions of confinement, and by locating detainees closer to where they are apprehended so that they can be near their families, attorneys, community resources and the ICE field office.

"ICE is committed to making sensible detention reforms, and we continue to look for other locations to achieve that goal," ICE said in the statement.

The GEO Group and Newton County officials did not return calls seeking comment. 

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.