Local law enforcement figures, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, are frustrated that Congress won't reform the nation's broken immigration system.
After a burst of creative organizing this winter pushed the issue onto lawmakers' agendas, momentum for comprehensive immigration seems to be dissipating in Washington. On Friday, Illinois' own Rep. Luis Gutierrez said that, unless 20 or so Republicans signed on, there wouldn't be enough votes in the U.S. House to pass an immigration bill this year.
While the fate of the measure remains up in the air, the need for action continues to grow. Just last month, the head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Tribune editorial board that the Department of Homeland Security is planning on stepping up its costly enforcement of illegal immigration in Illinois and other states, separating families and shrinking the nation's economic output. At the same time, the porous system is placing extra burdens on local law enforcement agents, who are often forced to deal with immigration violations even though their agencies aren't equipped to enforce those laws and could be devoting valuable (and scare) resources to investigate more serious crimes.
Law enforcement officers aren't happy with the status quo. The Police Foundation found (PDF) that 67 percent of police chiefs nationwide think making their officers responsible for immigration enforcement weakens criminal investigations. The reason is simple: When citizens constantly feel like they or people they know could be deported because of small legal violations, they are reluctant to talk to law enforcement agents. As Pat O'Connor, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said at a rally in April: "If they are afraid to speak to us because of their legal status, then we cannot give them the protection they deserve."
At an immigration forum hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Friday afternoon, Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez and ICIRR ally Maria Segura (whose husband was recently deported) joined local cops and sheriffs in reiterating how a lack of trust between the police in the region and the immigrant communities they protect impairs necessary cooperation. Watch it:
Also on hand were two of Illinois' premier law enforcement figures, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who both joined the mounting calls for reform nationwide. "We have never needed an issue put behind us quicker than this issue," Dart said. Watch: