Town spurns migrant detention

GOSHEN, Ind. — Immi­gration and Customs Enforcement has long sought to consolidate immigrants held in Mid­west jails. Local governments in Texas and California recently canceled agreements to hold detainees for ICE even as other communities seek the jobs and dollars that doing so can generate.

Last fall, ICE put out a request for new detention sites near Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City and St. Paul as it sought to expand capacity from 40,000 migrants to 51,000.

A proposal by CoreCivic Inc., one of the nation’s largest private prison companies, put Elkhart County, Ind., on that list.

The county is the hub of the booming recreational vehicle industry, with about 2 percent unemployment. A large Amish population has long provided many factory workers, but with 9,000 openings, “we have a lot of jobs that nobody wants,” said county commissioner Mike Yoder.

Immigrants have filled much of the gap in the workforce, yet residents remain divided on issues including immigration. More than 7,000 packed an Elkhart school gym in May to cheer Trump. But the county seat of Goshen — dotted with multilingual yard signs proclaiming “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”— is a counterweight, home to a Mennonite college and large Latino population.

The proposal for a detention center jabbed at those complexities.

Elkhart wants jobs, said Pete McCown, president of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County. But a detention center would add positions that could be difficult to fill, while potentially labeling the county as a place to lock people up.

“We don’t want that to become our identification,” he said.

Yoder counseled CoreCivic officials to think over their next move.

“After careful consideration,” a company official wrote, “CoreCivic has decided to withdraw its application.”