Cook County challenges federal immigration policy

Cook County challenges federal immigration policy
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia

Politicians in Illinois are again at the forefront of the immigration debate.

On Wednesday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners said it won't pay to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

In a 10 to 5 vote it approved a measure to deny "detainer" requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the Chicago Tribune's Antonio Olivo.

Such requests are generally made when ICE suspects someone is undocumented. But county officials say detainers cost them $15 million per year.

The measure was spearheaded by Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and also had the support of Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The county is facing a $315 million shortfall and this measure would save them money, they argued.

Critics contend that dangerous criminals will be released. But Garcia said this is not the case.

"Detainers are not criminal warrants. Our criminal justice system already guards against the release of dangerous criminals. This Ordinance would not result in the release of anyone who isn’t already entitled to their freedom," Garcia said in a statement.

This is a bold move for Cook County officials.

At a time when states like Indiana are pushing for immigration controls and in Alabama they want to punish those who would help immigrants, Illinois is going in the opposite direction.

There are a few key reasons why.

We have a governor that supports immigration reform.

In May, Gov. Pat Quinn announced he was pulling Illinois out of the Secure Communities program, the first state to do this. This program allows the fingerprints of all arrestees to be checked for immigration violations against a Department of Homeland Security database.

Gov. Quinn also signed the Illinois DREAM Act into law on Aug. 1 to help undocumented students seek private scholarships to attend college.

And our new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while once accused by activists of not supporting immigrants enough, is now an avid supporter of the Illinois DREAM Act and also the federal DREAM Act.

In the past, the Chicago City Council has passed pro-immigration ordinances and the county board too.

Many of these past measures have been more symbolic as the state, county or city cannot change a person's immigration status.

But this latest measure, if it withstands any challenges, will have more impact. Judges have moved to halt portions of the anti-immigration laws in Arizona, Indiana and Alabama, so who knows if laws that are pro-immigration could also be blocked.

In the meantime in Cook County, people arrested for driving without a license and other minor crimes may be released before ICE can take them into custody.

It means fewer families, at least in Cook County, will face separation by immigration officials.

Cook County officials are standing up to federal policies they say are costing them money. But they also are sending the Obama Administration a message that they are not afraid to challenge federal immigration policy.

We can expect to see states and local government continue to take such measures that will either benefit or hurt undocumented immigrants unless the U.S. Congress passes immigration reform.



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  • Illegal immigrants have decided that they do not have to follow the laws of the United States but should have all of the rights of citizenship. There is a legal process to enter our country and become a citizen and those that decide that they are above those laws should not be allowed privileges afforded to law-abiding citizens.

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