Deportation use could provide federal funding for Kankakee airport upgrades
The Kankakee Valley Airport is poised to become a major player in immigration deportations, especially if major runway improvements gain approval.
A post on the Edgar County Watchdogs website reported on discussions at a recent Kankakee Valley Airport Authority meeting involving possible cooperation on a project with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Turns out the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics, KKVA and our legislators are all working feverishly to capture federal funding to build up the airport runways to an MD-80 standard.” Watchdogs researcher Kirk Allen said in an online post. “The MD-80 is a model of aircraft that can hold as many as 172 passengers, or in this case deportees.”
Many deportees in the region are currently being housed at a Kankakee County detention center near the airport.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pledged to expand the number of ICE agents and to crack down on those who are in the nation illegally. “It would appear there are big plans for this airport as it relates to future ICE transports of those swept up in ICE operations,” Allen said in the post.
One lawmaker, state Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst (R-Kankakee), has been especially bullish on the project.
“If there’s a perfect storm, this is it considering what’s happening at the national level,” Parkhurst said.
Such an airport improvement project could attract additional warehousing and trucking distribution operations, she told airport authority members during a recent meeting. That would foster increased economic development and help to compensate for the reported loss of sales tax revenue in the region, Parkhurst said.
“We are trying to bring all stakeholders together,” she said. These include law enforcement officials, the Kankakee mayor and members of the County Board.
The cost of the runway improvement project would be about $5 million, Parkhurst said. And the federal government could be expected to provide 90 percent of the funding, she added, with local agencies picking up 5 percent and the state picking up the remaining 5 percent.
“I am going to work as hard as I can to effectuate this project,” Parkhurst told members of the airport authority.
The project would not cause the region to lose its rural character, she said, but airport improvements could be a boon for the region. Federal Express, UPS and Amazon could increase cargo business in the region through expanded airport capabilities, Parkhurst said.
“We already have a lot of the infrastructure in place,” she said. “We’re not starting from scratch.”
Others who might take advantage of improved airport facilities include Army Reserve units in the region, Parkhurst said.
“I would hope that it would be something that’s acceptable” in the community, she said.
The Chicago Tribune reported this month that attorneys and other who advocate for immigrant rights have criticized a recent ICE decision to move the Chicago region’s processing point for those facing deportation 70 miles to the south, to the Kankakee detention facility. The decision on March 3 means that family members and others in Chicago will have to drive farther to drop off suitcases or say their farewells.
The newspaper report included attorneys’ criticism of ICE for causing confusion in immigrant communities and not being transparent with its policy announcements. But ICE officials said they met with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, as well as officials at foreign consulates, to explain and inform them of the changes.
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