An Illinois law to end federal immigration detention over the New Year encountered another legal problem, delaying a change that immigrant rights activists had celebrated as historic.
Illinois local governments cannot enter into new federal agreements allowing prisons to house immigrant inmates and must terminate old ones in 2022 under the law signed in August by Governor JB Pritzker. Other states, including Maryland and New Jersey, have enacted similar laws.
Three Illinois counties with such federal agreements faced a Jan. 1 deadline to end contracts. While one in lower Illinois complied last year, two others are involved in a federal lawsuit challenging the law. The case was dismissed last month, but a federal judge on Thursday granted an extension while an appeal is considered. Authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties now have until January 13.
Immigrant rights activists have been celebrating the law for months, claiming that the incarceration of those awaiting immigration proceedings is inhumane and costly. But others, including authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties, say they will lose income and the end of contracts creates new complications such as detainees being removed from their families.
“This decision will have absolutely no impact on the release of these detainees,” Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said in a statement after the trial was dismissed. “In fact, they will undoubtedly be transferred to other states, while forcing the families of these detainees to travel much further to visit their loved ones, all because of typical Illinois partisan politics. in Springfield. ”
In the far south of Illinois, the Pulaski County Detention Center evacuated immigrant detainees over the Labor Day weekend. Most of the 50 or so inmates have been transferred to either the other two institutions in Illinois or Kansas.
Three were initially released, but more followed in the days that followed in a process in which detainees were allowed to submit evidence on their cases. Fifteen detainees in total have been released, according to court documents.
“I was very happy. I was even crying. I felt like it was a miracle,” said Angel, an immigrant from Honduras who refused to give his last name out of concern for his immigration case. The father of four said he left Honduras to escape gang violence.
He was detained for about a month after police found him asleep in a parked car after drinking. He was turned over to immigration authorities. After his release from Pulaski over Labor Day weekend, he was reunited with his family in Indiana, according to Diana Rashid, a lawyer at the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center.
The leaders of McHenry and Kankakee counties sued the Illinois law in September, calling it overbreadth. Together, the two counties can accommodate nearly 400 inmates, although each currently has far fewer, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of Thursday’s stay, McHenry, who currently houses around 65 inmates, had planned to notify ICE on January 1 that he would terminate his monthly contract and transfer or release the inmates within 30 days, or by the end of it. January, according to Peter Austin, county administrator.
After the stay, McHenry County officials said they plan to do so after the extension, which means the inmates will be released or transferred next month.
The contract brings in about $ 10 million per year, a major source of money and jobs for the northern Illinois county along the Wisconsin border with an annual budget of around $ 200 million. The county jail has housed immigrant inmates since 2003.
Kankakee County, which has a similar contract and has held immigrants at the Jerome Combs Detention Center since 2016, also anticipated a loss of revenue. The jail is approximately 65 miles from Chicago. In a December statement, Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the county would appeal “to the extent possible, up to and including the United States Supreme Court.”
County officials, including the sheriff, declined interview requests or did not return requests for comment. ICE also declined to provide details.
Meanwhile, a nearby Indiana County jail was preparing to potentially house additional inmates transferred from Illinois. The state banned private detention in 2019 following unsuccessful attempts to build a new facility near Chicago.
Immigrant rights advocates, who said the delay was only temporary, planned to advocate for detainees’ release rather than transfers, which could put them further away from legal aid. But they continued to praise Illinois law, saying incarceration destabilizes families.
“It’s part of a larger strategy. The ultimate goal is to end detention, ”said Grisel Ruiz of the California-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Johannes Favi, 34, was released from Kankakee County in 2020 following health concerns over COVID-19. He praised the new law, saying there was always the fear of being transferred somewhere far ahead of the law.
The father-of-three exceeded the duration of a 2013 Benin visitor visa and was in the process of applying for a green card, but as he pleaded guilty in a 2015 financial crime hearing, officers immigration arrested him.
He reunited with his family in Indianapolis and became an advocate for other inmates.
“You are traumatized from the minute you are arrested,” he said. “People who have not committed any crime should be released to their families.”
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