Jail to ignore immigration holds unless feds pay

September 8, 2011

(WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)
Commissioner Jesús García, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters after the Cook County Board vote.

One of the nation’s largest jails will start releasing some detainees wanted by immigration authorities. That’s under an ordinance approved Wednesday afternoon by the Cook County Board.

The measure requires the county’s sheriff to decline Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests known as detainers “unless there is a written agreement with the federal government by which all costs incurred” by the county are reimbursed.

Jails around the country routinely comply with the ICE detainers and hold the inmates up to two business days beyond what their criminal cases require. Cook County each day turns over to ICE an average of three inmates named in detainers. President Obama’s administration calls the holds critical for deporting criminal aliens.

At the County Board meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Jesús García, D-Chicago, likened the holds to an unfunded federal mandate. “When we anticipate a $315 million shortfall for the next fiscal year, we cannot continue to divert local taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We work for our constituents, not the federal government.”

County officials say holding an inmate costs about $143 a day but Sheriff Tom Dart’s office has not provided a precise estimate of how much the ICE detainers cost the county each year.

Commissioners brought up issues beyond the county budget. Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said the holds violate the detainees’ rights to due process. “What we’re doing here today is righting a wrong against people who are under the protection of the United States Constitution,” he said.

Several commissioners pointed to a legal opinion this summer from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office. The opinion says compliance with the detainers is voluntary.

A few others voiced opposition to the measure. “This ordinance in my opinion is a monumental mistake,” said Timothy Schneider, R-Bartlett. “Gang bangers and people involved in drug dealing, sex trafficking and criminal sexual assault will be released back into our communities.”

After more than an hour of debate, commissioners approved the measure in a 10-5 vote. The no votes came from Schneider; Liz Gorman, R-Orland Park; Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview; John Daley, D-Chicago; and Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park.

ICE says the federal government does not reimburse any local jurisdiction for costs associated with the immigration detainers.

A handful of counties, including San Francisco, have quit complying with ICE detainers under narrow circumstances. Immigrant advocates say Cook County is the first local jurisdiction to enact legislation that effectively ends compliance with all immigration detainers.

After the board approved the measure, García said other counties would take note. “It could have potential for localities in other areas exerting themselves and their rights,” he said.