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Politicians condemn conditions at ICE detention center in Kankakee

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and some Chicago-area elected officials paid a surprise visit to the Jerome Combs Detention Center this week.

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (right) at a press conference Thursday in Little Village. Garcia convened the press conference two days after paying a surprise visit to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee.
Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (right) and other elected officials discuss conditions at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee.
Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and other Chicago-area elected officials blasted the Kankakee County sheriff’s office Thursday over alleged mistreatment of immigrants under federal custody housed in its jail.

Garcia paid a surprise visit to the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee on Tuesday after his office received reports of immigrant detainees lacking proper medical care and recreational time outdoors, among other concerns.

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya and state Reps. Aaron Ortiz and Celina Villanueva, both Chicago Democrats, and Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, joined Garcia on a tour of the facility.

Officials criticized the conditions for immigrant detainees at a news conference Thursday in Little Village.

“We confirmed our fears regarding the health, legal, recreational and cultural needs of those detainees,” Garcia said. “Detainees lack access to basic needs every human deserves regardless of citizenship. . . . The only sunlight detainees can get is if they stand directly under a small skylight in the holding areas where the pods for detainees are.”

“That’s cruelty,” Hernandez said.

Garcia said his office would continue to push for greater transparency at Jerome Combs and demand to see an unredacted copy of an inspection report of the facility from April.

Efforts to get a comment from the Kankakee sheriff’s office were unsuccessful.

Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee.
Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee.
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has contracted the Kankakee sheriff’s office to detain unauthorized immigrants since late 2016. The jail also houses local and U.S. Marshal Service inmates.

Most ICE detainees at Jerome Combs in recent years had clean criminal records or were convicted of minor, non-violent crimes.

Of the 127 ICE detainees held at the jail in December 2018 — the most recent publicly available data — 51 had no criminal convictions; 42 were convicted of property crimes or misdemeanors; and 34 were convicted of serious crimes, according to an analysis of ICE records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

In September 2017, nearly 84% of ICE detainees at Jerome Combs either had clean records or were convicted of property crimes or misdemeanors, according to the group.

Kankakee County collected more than $10 million in fiscal year 2018 for renting space at Jerome Combs to agencies outside the county, according to its 2019 appropriation budget.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.