Should Cook County hold inmates for immigration purposes ?

Should Cook County officials honor requests by the federal government to hold inmates for immigration purposes?

County commissioners held a four-and-a-half hour hearing Thursday to determine whether to amend an ordinance, which was approved in September 2011, that allows Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to decline enforcing an immigration-hold request, also known as a “detainer,” unless the federal government agrees in writing to reimburse the county for the cost of detention.

Efforts to amend the ordinance stems largely from the activism of one family touched by a crime that was allegedly committed by an undocumented immigrant. Brian McCann began a public push for the change after his brother, William, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in June. Saul Chavez was charged in the incident.

In response, Commissioners Timothy Schneider, Peter Silvestri  and John Daley have proposed amending the existing ordinance. Their proposals include giving more discretion to county officials when deciding when to comply with detainers and repealing a provision in the ordinance that bars immigration officials from having access to the county jail.

Commissioners have yet to vote on the amendments. But Thursday’s hearing drew dozens of vocal supporters and critics of the proposed changes.

Among them was Sherriff Dart.

“There needs to be some distinction in those cases we should honor detainers,” Dart said. “There are some offenses more serious than others.”

Since the ordinance was enacted, Dart says his office has denied 346 detainers related to cases involving a range of charges–from gun possession and aggravated battery to sexual assault and domestic violence.

Commissioner Jesus Garcia, who introduced the initial ordinance, defended the measure by pointing out that the county is liable if officials agree to hold inmates who turn out to be U.S. citizens.

Garcia talked about a lawsuit in which five U.S. citizens were held after immigration officials mistakenly placed detainers on them. The county ended up paying the five $72,000.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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