Immigration detention ends in Illinois after ICE transfers those awaiting deportation to out-of-state jails

In January, a federal court order allowed the Illinois Way Forward to proceed. The new law said local officials had to end contracts that previously allowed them to detain people in immigration custody.

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Protestors rally at Congress Plaza in support of immigration reform in the United States, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

Protestors rally at Congress Plaza in support of immigration reform in the United States, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo

Immigration detention has ended in Illinois after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement transferred those awaiting deportation to facilities outside of the state.

The federal agency confirmed Tuesday that as of Feb. 5, there weren’t any more people in ICE custody at the McHenry County Jail in Woodstock, and at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, which were the last two facilities in the state housing people awaiting deportation.

A new law, the Illinois Way Forward, called for local officials to end existing contracts that had allowed them to detain people in immigration custody, though the implementation of it was delayed earlier this year after officials in McHenry and Kankakee counties tried to legally challenge it.

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In early January, there were less than 100 people in immigration custody in Illinois, according to federal court records filed in the legal challenge.

By February, about 30 people who had been in ICE custody in Illinois were transferred to jails in Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas, said Dave Faherty, a supervising attorney with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center’s detention project.

More than a dozen people who had been held at the McHenry County Jail were transferred to an Oklahoma county jail, where some clients have told attorneys about people falling sick with COVID-19, Faherty said.

“This is one of the main concerns when we were advocating for people to be released just a few weeks ago,” he said. “We are in this pandemic, and it’s a pretty difficult part of the pandemic with this uptick in Omicron. By doing transfers like this, this just propagates the virus.”

There were nine confirmed COVID-19 cases at that Oklahoma jail as of Monday, according to the latest statistics from ICE.

The National Immigrant Justice Center, which provides legal assistance to immigrants, along with other Chicago-area organizations had pushed for ICE to implement alternatives to detention rather than transferring people to different facilities. About 42 people who had been in immigration custody were released as the contracts with ICE came to an end, Faherty said.

Those whose immigration cases were being heard in Chicago’s immigration court are expected to stay in same jurisdiction through virtual hearings, he said.

Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said groups will continue to support the individuals who were transferred out of state and remain in ICE custody.

“It’s a partial victory, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Tsao said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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