ICE Challenges Cook County, Illinois' Policy on Immigration Detainers

Cook County, Illinois, which includes the city of Chicago, is home to one of the country’s largest jails. The county made headlines last fall when it decided to ignore requests from federal immigration authorities to detain certain inmates past their release date. The practice, known as an immigration detainer, describes a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to local law enforcement to hold an inmate who may have immigration issues until ICE can take custody of the inmate. The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance in September 2011 that prevents county jails from complying with ICE detainers unless ICE agrees to cover the cost of the extra detention. ICE generally does not compensate local jails for complying with detainers.

County officials, in addition to cost issues related to holding detainees longer in county facilities, point to due process concerns. Detainers, they argue, amount to additional imprisonment without the opportunity for hearing or review. This “erodes community trust in local police,” they say.

The conflict between Cook County and ICE heated up in November with the case of Saul Chavez. Chavez was charged in a hit-and-run crash in Chicago that killed a pedestrian in the summer of 2011. ICE issued a detainer after his June arrest asking the county to notify them 48 hours before his release so ICE agents could take him into custody for alleged immigration violations. Chavez’s family posted bond for him in November, after the ordinance had passed, so the county jail ignored the detainer and released Chavez. Chavez has not been seen since.

The same day that Chicago media reported on Chavez’s case, January 4, 2012, ICE Director John Morton wrote a letter to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Morton accuses the ordinance of “undermin[ing] public safety in Cook County” and possibly violating federal law. State and local law enforcement have little to no authority regarding immigration laws, and any obligation of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE detainers is not well-defined. It is not entirely clear, therefore, how Cook County’s ordinance violates federal law.

Critics of the ordinance had already alleged that it would eventually lead to violent and dangerous criminals being released from custody. Commissioner Timothy Schneider called it “our Willie Horton moment in Cook County.” He has sponsored an ordinance that would allow the sheriff to communicate with ICE about specific detainers.

The Chavez case in particular, and claims about violent criminals going free in general, are really a red herring with regard to the issue of ICE detainers. ICE allegations of immigration violations most likely have no bearing on the criminal charges pending against him in Cook County. Any immigration violations by Chavez could not be based on the hit-and-run, because there have been no convictions yet. In the absence of the ICE detainer, Chavez would be just as allegedly dangerous, but no legal mechanism would prevent his family from posting his bond. Local criminal charges and federal immigration charges often coincide when an allegedly undocumented immigrant is in a local jail, but the two types of cases are not necessarily legally related to each other.

The United States immigration system is often complicated and confusing. For a free and confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer, contact Gus Shihab online or at (800) 625-3404 today.

More Blog Posts

Application of Prosecutorial Discretion in Ohio, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, January 12, 2012

Controversial Arizona Sheriff Stripped of Authority to Conduct Immigration Screening, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, January 11, 2012

Ohio Businessman’s Arrest Leads to a Hold by Immigration Officials, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, December 22, 2011

Photo credit: Chicago Cityscape 1 by runrunrun on stock.xchng.