GOSHEN — Potential plans for a new immigration detention facility drew protesters and activists to the steps of the Elkhart County Courthouse Saturday afternoon.
A few hundred people — pressed under a phalanx of umbrellas, hoods and ponchos against the rain — attended a cultural rally where several speakers expressed opposition to the possibility that Nashville-based CoreCivic intends to acquire property along C.R. 7, across from the Elkhart County Landfill. The company operates detention centers for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and also operates correctional facilities across the country.
“We believe that stopping this prison will help our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Richard Aguirre, founder of Elkhart County HOPE, told the diverse crowd.
He and other speakers used the rally to send a message to county leaders to reject any prison proposal. The thrust of their arguments was such a facility would be bad for the local economy as it could chase away immigrant workers who hold numerous manufacturing jobs in the county.
“The vast majority of our immigrant community is very hard working. They keep our factories open. They keep the economy flowing,” said Felipe Merino, an immigrant defense attorney and Goshen resident. “Everyone came here for a reason, whether it was recently or generations ago.”
Goshen’s image would suffer as well, some believe.
“I do believe this detention center runs contrary to what we’re building in Goshen. I think we’re building a vibrant, welcoming community,” Goshen City Council member Julia King said after speaking at the rally.
Speakers paused a couple times as the crowd broke into chants of “Just say no” and “We are one,” the latter in both English and Spanish.
“We have to support the undocumented and stand with them,” said Melissa Cortez, Goshen.
She and a couple friends launched one of the chants.
Several attendees carried signs to protest detention efforts for undocumented immigrants. Others came from outside Elkhart County to support the rally.
“It sickens me to think Elkhart could imprison undocumented immigrants,” said Monica Casanova, Fort Wayne. “We strive to be the best we can to contribute to our communities.”
“While I’m home, I’m supporting the development of rapid response groups in case of ICE raids and to protect and support each other at this spiritual and political moment,” said Sarah Thompson, an Elkhart County native who worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Chicago. “Immigrants are subjected to many injustices within a broad system that is making profit for the few and a lot of heartache for the many.”
Thompson is preparing to move to Atlanta in January to take a position with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Organizing grassroots campaigns is a key strategy for speakers who helped lead the rally.
“An ICE prison in Elkhart County will be no benefit to immigrants and no benefit to the community,” said Lisa Koop, an attorney at the Chicago-based National Immigration Justice Center. “We are not the first community to push back … We can stop it, and we will.”
Koop referred, apparently, to protests against a proposed detention center in Illinois.
CoreCivic, under its previous name Corrections Corporation of America, pulled plans in 2013, to build a facility in Joliet following intense community opposition, according to a news story by the Chicago Tribune posted online in June 2013.
Meanwhile, booths were set up during Saturday’s rally for attendees to obtain information on immigration issues.
CoreCivic representatives have not commented if they have any specific proposals for Elkhart County. Elkhart County commissioner Mike Yoder said Friday the company had contacted him earlier this fall about the possibility of building the detention center on farmland across from the landfill.