A huge shift in how federal authorities detain local undocumented immigrants has sparked widespread concern among immigration attorneys, who said they and the families of their clients have been left in the dark.
The local branch of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week quietly stopped transferring Mexico-bound detainees to a processing center in west suburban Broadview. Instead, it is now taking those individuals to the Kankakee County Detention Center, which is nearly 70 miles south of Chicago.
A spokeswoman for the federal agency said in a statement that the move will “make better use of ICE resources.” She said the switch in detention centers was made on Friday.
The move in detention centers had been in the works for months before the November election, as ICE’s local operations sought additional capacity to detain undocumented immigrants. Removals reached record numbers under President Barack Obama, and President Trump has promised an even more aggressive deportation strategy. Trump has vowed to deport about 3 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
According to immigration lawyers, the Broadview facility processed detainees who were brought in from several detention facilities in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin, but did not hold individuals overnight. The Kankakee facility is an overnight detention center where individuals may both be housed and processed for removal.
The ICE spokeswoman said in a Wednesday evening statement that there are currently 128 ICE detainees at the Kankakee County Detention Center.
Royal Berg, an immigration attorney, said he learned about the change on Friday, when he and an interfaith group of activists gathered at ICE’s Broadview processing center to pray for detainees. Berg said it was clear something had shifted because there were no families of detainees waiting outside the center that morning.
“On the day of deportation, the families are allowed to say goodbye and bring luggage and money and things like that,” Berg said. He said the new location for staging detainees may make this impossible for many families who travel from the North Side of Chicago or northern suburbs like Waukegan. “It will be more difficult for them (to get to Kankakee), and yes, I am concerned about that,” he said.
Keren Zwick, a managing attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said the shift has caused deep concern among local immigration lawyers.
“The biggest concern of it is the complete lack of transparency and accountability for this facility and for ICE’s move to make this change without notifying the community,” she said.
Zwick said that the National Immigrant Justice Center never received notice from ICE that detainees would be held in Kankakee. She said she and her colleagues learned about the move from news reports in October, after about 75 people were reportedly housed there.
Zwick said her organization’s attempts to get information from ICE about treatment standards for detainees have been ignored. She said immigration attorneys have no knowledge about what kind of access their clients at the facility are given to mail, medical care, recreational time and a law library. Any such standards would be outlined in a contract between ICE and Kankakee County officials.
When asked about standards at the facility, the ICE spokeswoman said via email that the "Kankakee County Detention Center meets the ICE’s performance-based national detention standards."
Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @oyousef.