Across the country, dozens of county sheriff departments have partnerships with the federal government that essentially deputize cops as immigration agents.
Illinois has no counties in the program, but McHenry County is trying to get in. It has an application pending for a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Democrats in the Illinois Legislature voted this spring to ban such partnerships with federal immigration authorities by passing the Keep Illinois Families Together Act. The bill is awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature, and he has indicated he will sign it. It is one of several bills meant to protect immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, that Democrats pushed through the Legislature this year.
These bills largely moved under the radar in the news media against the backdrop of legalizing pot, pushing a progressive income tax, gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and preserving the right for women to have abortions.
Some of these pro-immigrant bills have been in the works for years. As President Donald Trump continues to sink to new lows in trying to rid the country of refugees and undocumented immigrants, there is increasing urgency to make them law. Other bills have emerged more recently as Trump succeeds in ratcheting up anti-immigrant fervor in conservative communities.
The bill to ban partnerships between ICE and local cops is a pressing need because of McHenry County, which already works with the federal government on immigration. It has a deal to detain undocumented immigrants in its jail, and the county was expected to bring in more than $10 million last year, the Sun-Times reported in December.
Some police departments see immigration enforcement as part of their job. They see it as a tool to keep communities safe, as McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta told me. “They’re going on the basis that immigrants are criminals,” said Acosta, who opposes McHenry County’s plan.
Research shows that most undocumented immigrants are law-abiding except for the illegal entry.
Making McHenry County cops ICE deputies would come back to haunt the county when it needs cooperation from immigrants to solve crimes. Cops won’t get the assistance they sorely need. Constitutional issues also could come up when cops hold immigrants in criminal custody over immigration matters.
By Marlen Garcia for CHICAGO SUN TIMES
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