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Many in Illinois town hope locating Gitmo detainees there helps business

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
  • White House: Obama to announce transfer of prisoners to Thomson, Illinois
  • Town of about 600 people is 150 miles west of Chicago
  • Maximum-security prison in town has been largely vacant for five years
  • Residents hoping that arrival of guards and other personnel will bring business

(CNN) -- People who live in the northern Illinois town of Thomson are happy that Guantanamo Bay detainees could soon be transferred to a correctional facility there.

"We need help economically, and most folks think it's going to bring business," said Todd Baker, a 43-year-old who helps support four children with his Thomson bait and tackle shop. The business has nose-dived so badly in the past year that he was contemplating closing.

"This news makes me want to keep my doors open," he said. "I'll have lots of guards coming by for their bait."

The mile-long farming town of about 600 that lies 150 miles west of Chicago is home to the maximum-security Thomson Correctional Facility. The prison has been largely vacant for five years because the state lacked the resources to fully fund it. It now has 144 minimum-security prisoners, though its capacity is 1,600, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections Web site.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn are expected to meet with the White House Tuesday for a briefing on the plan that Quinn said could provide up to 2,000 jobs and $1 billion in federal money to the area.

The exact number of Gitmo detainees to be housed in Thomson is "hard to pin down," a senior White House official told CNN. The source said it could be as many as 100 inmates.

Two-hundred-fifteen detainees are held by the U.S. military at the camp in Cuba.

"It don't bother me that there is going to be terrorists -- or people who our government think are terrorists -- living there," said Mary Wiggins, a 43-year-old waitress at the popular Sunrise Cafe. "Murderers are in there, and terrorists are murderers. What difference does it make?

"If it brings people into this cafe, well, I guess I'm fine with it," she said.

Lewis Frosch was enjoying his morning coffee and eggs at Sunrise on Tuesday. The 70-year-old works part time for Wal-Mart and said he supports the idea.

"We have to get some use out of this prison," he said. "I don't label myself a liberal, but I don't feel any great threat from it. The idea that we would somehow be a target seems like a lot of fuss over nothing to me."

There is strident opposition to the idea, mostly among Republicans, including state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who is running for Illinois governor. The election will take place next November.

"I think al Qaeda terrorists ought to stay in Cuba," Dillard of Hinsdale, Illinois, said during a Republican gubernatorial debate. He called the idea "pathetic," characterizing the move as a money-grab by Democrats.

The Obama administration has set a January 2010 deadline to close Guantanamo Bay.