WASHINGTON -- Following the lead of Sen. Mark Kirk, suburban Republican lawmakers signed onto a letter Thursday urging President Obama to keep Guantanamo Bay detainees out of Thomson Correction Center in northwest Illinois.
They say until the president makes this commitment, Congress will refuse to use federal funds to revive Thomson as a federal prison.
While the Obama administration has said there is no immediate plan to move Gitmo detainees to Thomson, or anywhere in the U.S., it has not officially been ruled out for the future.
As lawmakers wrangle over the federal budget, Rep. Frank Wolf, of Virginia, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, has indicated reluctance to fund the Thomson facility for fear detainees from Guantanamo Bay would be moved there.
Illinois legislators have encouraged the re-establishment of Thomson as a prison for federal prisoners, but not for those from Gitmo, to create jobs.
The letter signed Thursday points to the need for jobs in northwest Illinois, where "the people ... have been teased time and time again over the last nine years that Thomson would open as a state or federal prison."
The vacant prison belongs to the state of Illinois. Plans to sell it to the Federal Bureau of Prisons were in the works, but fell through last December.
The Thomson facility could reportedly house up to 2,600 maximum security federal inmates. That space could help reduce crowding in the federal prisons, which, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin, are 52 percent over capacity in its maximum security sector. The system is expected to add 10,000 to 14,000 inmates in the next two years.
Thomson would need minor renovations, the cost of which would be far less than building a new prison -- at least $50 million less, according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, in January proposed banning federal funds from being used to bring Gitmo detainees to the U.S., and Peoria Republican Rep. Aaron Schock proposed similar legislation in the House, with several suburban Republican representatives as co-sponsors. They include Reps. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale, Randy Hultgren of Winfield, Adam Kinzinger of Manteno, Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Don Manzullo of Egan and Joe Walsh of McHenry, all of whom signed Thursday's letter to Obama.
Both the House and Senate legislation are in committee and have yet to be voted on.