Cook County Commissioners were inconclusive at a county board hearing
today about whether they should amend the county detainer ordinance. They were certain of their disdain for federal immigrations officials.
Cook County Commissioners were inconclusive at a county board hearing today about whether they should amend the county detainer ordinance to honor certain requests from federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to turn people over to federal immigration agents.
The hearing did reveal the intense dislike that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and commissioners hold for ICE. No one from ICE was present.
“The reason we’re here is because the federal government has abdicated its role,” Dart said, at the start of nearly an hour of questioning from loquacious Cook County Commissioners. Dart added that it was“beyond stunning” and “absolutely outrageous” that ICE declined to participate.
In September, Cook County Commissioners, with consultation from the sheriff’s office, passed an ordinance into law, by a vote of 10-5, that the sheriff’s office would no longer honor ICE detainer requests.
Detainer requests by ICE ask that local law enforcement officials turn over people, whom the agency identifies, that are both charged with a crime and believed to be an undocumented immigrant.
The ordinance received scant attention when it was passed. But a January 4 Chicago Tribune column linked the law to the June 2011 death of Dennis McCann, who was killed by a drunk driver. The person charged with the death, Saul Chavez, posted bond, was released in November, and has fled Cook County. His whereabouts are unknown.
The Tribune column provoked a letter from ICE head John Morton to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle condemning the detainer ordinance.
Tim Schneider, a Republican commissioner from Streamwood, subsequently wrote a detainer ordinance amendment stating that the county would honor ICE detainer requests when it involved suspects charged with serious felonies or on the federal terrorism watch list.
Dart testified that he more or less agreed with the Schneider amendment, arguing that “there needed to be a distinction,” between “minor offenses and serious felonies” in the name of public safety.
However, Dart freely admitted that he does not know if would be legal to turn people over to ICE simply because they were charged with a crime Cook County deems especially serious.
“Do you believe you have the constitutional authority to hold someone who is entitled to be released based on a detainer by ICE,” asked Commissioner John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat.
“A governmental agency giving me a request to hold somebody, I don’t really know how I would distinguish that from a local law enforcement agent saying, ‘Hey, let’s hold this guy for a couple of days and see what we can find out about him,’” responded Dart, a former state attorney.
Dart said that since the ordinance passed in September, Cook County has refused to honor 346 ICE detainers. Of the 346 set free instead of detained by ICE, 11 have subsequently committed a crime, according to the county sheriff.
Dart also cited an injunction by a U.S. District Court in Indiana in June against ICE. The court ruled that detaining immigrants without producing arrest warrants violates the constitution.
Several immigration and civil rights groups like the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights and ACLU also testified that ICE detention violates due process rights.
Preckwinkle was not at the hearing, but a representative from her office, Julianne Stratton, testified that the cook county board president does not support the amendments.
“We don’t believe immigration status should be a determining factor in whether someone is released,” Stratton said.
Amendment sponsor Schneider gave a subdued testimony that pointed out honoring ICE detainers does not cost Cook County much money. But even Schneider expressed frustration that “unfortunately ICE has declined to be here today.”
Maybe the strongest voice for amending the ordinance was Brian McCann, brother of the late Dennis McCann. He testified that an ICE detainer would have kept Chavez in Cook County, allowing for the missing man to be brought to justice.
Fritchey took issue with McCann’s testimony, pointing out that ICE had chances to place a detainer on Chavez and declined to do so. Overall, there was confusion about how ICE decides when to employ these detainers.
“Their process is an enigma,” Dart said.