Pritzker signs law banning local jails from detaining people facing deportation

Three county jails have contracts with ICE to hold people facing deportation.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions Monday after signing legislation that expands protections for immigrant and refugee communities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions Monday after signing legislation that expands protections for immigrant and refugee communities.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

County jails in Illinois will no longer be able to detain people facing deportation under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Throughout my governorship, I’ve directed my administration to adopt policies that make Illinois a welcoming state for immigrants,” said Pritzker, speaking in Aurora. “Every family, every child, every human being deserves to feel safe and secure in the place they call home. I am committed to making sure that value defines what it means to live in Illinois.”

Pritzker’s office said Illinois is the second state in the nation to require local officials to end partnerships with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The General Assembly passed the bill, known as the Illinois Way Forward Act, in May, and it calls for local officials to end existing contracts to detain those in immigration custody by Jan. 1, 2022. It would also prohibit law enforcement and state or local government from entering into any similar contracts in the future.

Mya Hendrix, a social justice activist in Kankakee County, has been working on the detention issue for about five years.

“Today is amazing. My team and I are all very excited about the passing of this bill. We were wondering what was taking the governor so long. So we were kind of on our seats about it, but we’re very grateful,” Hendrix said.

Three jails in Illinois detain those in immigration custody: the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, the McHenry County Jail, and the Pulaski County Detention Center in downstate Ullin.

Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, who oversees the Jerome Combs Detention Center, said the language in the bill and Pritzker’s support for it shows an anti-law enforcement bias.

“Now they are telling us we can’t communicate with ICE,” Downey said. “Is [Pritzker] going to tell us tomorrow that we can’t communicate with the FBI or we can’t communicate with [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives]? Or we can’t communicate with [the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration]?”

Downey said the number of detainees at the Kankakee County facility has ranged from 25 to 200. On Monday, there were 63 people in custody.

“As of today, if we were just to move forward and this [law] ends up holding up in court — because that’s where it’s going to end up — these individuals that are in our custody and McHenry’s custody and Pulaski County’s custody are going to be moved to other states,” Downey said.

That’s going to be a hardship for their families, who’ll be forced to visit them in another state, Downey said.

“ICE isn’t going to call us up and say, ‘Just let them out the door,’” Downey said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not be reached for comment Monday. In June, the agency said it doesn’t comment on legislation but will focus on “civil immigration enforcement on the priorities of national security, border security and public safety. [Department of Homeland Security] does not prohibit ICE from apprehending or detaining individuals who are unlawfully in the United States and fall outside of these specific priorities.”

In McHenry County, a coalition that had been formed in opposition of the local jail’s contract with ICE will be transitioning into a rapid response group to respond to when ICE detains immigrants in the community, said Amanda Hall, a member of the coalition and the founder of Standing Against Racism Woodstock.

“While our detention center will be forced to shut down, we know ICE still will be picking up community members and we want to be vigilant and be out there,” Hall said. “Be witnesses to anything happening, but to also be supportive of people in our community for those that still need it.”

The group hadn’t been able to convince the McHenry County Board to cancel the contract with ICE, but Hall said she and others were happy to have been able to support the legislation that will impact the entire state. She is hopeful the end of immigration detention in McHenry County will alleviate fears in the immigrant community.

“To feel safe in their communities and not only that but to truly feel welcomed,” Hall said.

Contributing: Elvia Malagón

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