An Illinois law aimed at ending federal immigration retention in the New Year has hit another legal snag, delaying a change that immigration rights activists have made historic.
Local governments in Illinois cannot enter into new federal agreements that could house prisons for immigrant prisoners and must end old ones in 2022 under the law signed in August by Gov. 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 for ending contracts. While one filed in downstate Illinois 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 being considered. Authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties now have until Jan. 13.
Immigrant rights activists have been following the law for months, saying capturing people awaiting immigration procedures is inhumane and costly. But others, including authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties, claim they will lose revenue and that terminating contracts will create new complications, such as relocating family detainees.
“This decision will have absolutely no bearing on those detainees who are released,” Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said in a statement following the dismissal of the lawsuit. to travel much further to visit their loved ones, all because of typical partisan Illinois politics in Springfield.
In the far south of Illinois, the Pulaski County Detention Center picked up immigrant detainees during Labor Day weekend. Most of the roughly 50 detainees were transferred to both Illinois facilities other than Kansas.
Initially, three were released, but in the coming days more followed a process in which detainees were allowed to submit evidence about their cases. Fifteen total detainees were released, according to court documents.
“I was very happy. I was even crying. I felt this was a miracle,” said Angel, a Honduran immigrant who refused to give his last name out of concern for his ongoing immigration case. The father of four said he left Honduras to escape gang violence.
He was arrested about a month after police found him sleeping in a parked car after he got drunk. He was handed over to immigration authorities. Following 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.
Leaders in McHenry and Kankakee counties charged in September over the Illinois law, calling it overreach. Together, both counties have the capacity for nearly 400 detainees, although each currently has much less, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to Thursday’s stay, McHenry, who currently houses about 65 detainees, had planned to inform ICE on January 1 that it would terminate his contract from month to month and transfer or release detainees within 30 days, or by the end of January, according to Peter Austin, county administrator. After the stay, McHenry county officials said they planned to do so after the extension, which means detainees will be released or transferred next month.
The contract brings in about $ 10 million annually, a major source of money and jobs for the northern Illinois county along the Wisconsin border with an annual budget of approximately $ 200 million. The county jail has housed immigrant prisoners since 2003.
Kankakee County, which has a similar contract and has detained immigrants at the Jerome Combs Detention Center since 2016, also expected a loss of revenue. The prison is located about 65 miles from Chicago. In a December statement, Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the county would appeal “as far as we can, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court.”
County leaders including the sheriff declined interview requests or did not return requests for comment. ICE also declined to give details.
Meanwhile, a county jail in neighboring Indiana was preparing for possible additional detainees transferred from Illinois. The state banned private detention in 2019 after failed attempts to build a new facility near Chicago.
Immigrant rights advocates, who said the delay was only temporary, planned to plead for the release of detainees against transfers, which could bring them further from legal aid. But they continued to praise Illinois law, saying that care is destabilizing for families.
“It’s part of a larger strategy. The ultimate goal is to eventually abolish detention,” Grisel Ruiz told the California-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
John Favi, 34, was released in 2020 from Kankakee County after health care over COVID-19. He praised the new law, saying that there was always fear of a transfer somewhere far away even before the law.
The father of three remained in a 2013 visitor visa from Benin and was in the process of applying for a green card, but while pleading guilty at a hearing in connection with a 2015 financial crime, immigration agents arrested him.
He was reunited with his family in Indianapolis and became a lawyer for other detainees.
“You are traumatized from the moment you are arrested,” he said. “People who have not committed a crime should be released to their families again.”
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