A near-empty Illinois prison is among the US locations being considered to house transferred Guantanamo detainees, officials announced Sunday.
Less than 100 detainees would be housed in a separate facility within the maximum security prison, said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.
That facility would be run by the defense department and would hold "the only group of Guantanamo detainees" on US soil, Durbin told reporters.
Bringing the prisoners to the United States is necessary to both "make America safer" and to convince other countries to repatriate some of the 215 detainees still held at the prison camp on a US naval base in Cuba, Durbin said.
"We have an argument after closing Guantanamo that they can be delegated safely to other places around the world," Durbin said at a press conference. "We don't have that argument now."
Durbin insisted that the prisoners could be "safely and securely" held in whichever facility wins the contract and dismissed those who were "sowing the seeds of fear" in order to win political points.
"No one has ever escaped from one of these facilities," Durbin said, noting that the US prison system currently holds "some of the most dangerous people you could imagine." including more than 340 convicted terrorists, gang leaders, and drug cartel members.
"The president's policy is the right policy to make America safe," Durbin said.
The announcement came two days after President Barack Obama's administration announced it would try five accused plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks -- including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- in a civil court in New York City, just steps away from the scene of their alleged crime.
In a sharply-worded rebuke of the prison plans, Republican Representative Mark Kirk urged the White House "to put the safety and security of Illinois families first and stop any plan to transfer Al-Qaeda terrorists to our state."
"If your administration brings Al-Qaeda terrorists to Illinois, our state and the Chicago metropolitan area will become ground zero for jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization," Kirk, a Senate candidate, said in a letter to Obama circulated among state lawmakers and officials.
But Governor Pat Quinn insisted that the prison, Thomson, would bring much-needed jobs to the state and that the public not be at risk.
"We're not going to let the fear mongers carry the day," Quinn said at the joint press conference.
"Any future decisions regarding Thomson will first and foremost focus on ensuring public safety, while also bringing thousands of new jobs and a major investment to our state."
Federal officials will tour the facility this week and are also considering sites in Colorado, Montana and several other locations, Quinn said.
Located near the Mississippi River near the border with Iowa, the 1,600 cell Thomson Correctional Center has remained essentially vacant since it was opened eight years ago due to budgetary constraints.
It is protected by a 12-foot exterior fence and a 15-foot interior fence, which includes a dual-sided electric stun barrier.
Quinn said he hopes to sell the facility to the federal government at a "fair market price" and is confident he could get approval from the legislature.
The government's purchase of the prison could bring an estimated 2,340 to 3,250 direct and indirect jobs, with an economic benefit to the region of between 790 million dollars and 1.1 billion dollars over four years, according to a preliminary administration analysis.
It estimated that the unemployment rate in Carroll County, home to the prison, could be halved.