Rather than being turned over to immigration authorities, 346 Cook County jail inmates have walked out of jail without delay after posting bond, serving their sentence or having their case dropped in the nearly five months since county commissioners passed a controversial immigration ordinance.
From that group, 11 were freed only to be arrested again on new charges for drunken driving, theft and drug possession.
That’s according to Sheriff Tom Dart, boss at the 9,300-inmate jail, and among those testifying at a Thursday public hearing convened by the county board that OK’d the new policy.
Now there’s a new push to change the policy and again turn over to immigration officials suspects charged locally with violent and more serious felonies, high-level drug cases and those on a terrorist watch list. Of the 346 let out of jail, one was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer.
There are currently 148 inmates with immigration holds still in county jail but up for release if they make bond. That group includes people accused of murder, sexual assault and aggravated battery.
“When you segregate out the violent acts on this, it should give everybody in this county reason to feel a lot more secure and safe,” Dart said.
Last September, the majority of county commissioners approved a policy change to ignore the immigration holds – called “ICE detainers” for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – after an Indiana federal court ruling determined the holds are requests – not arrest warrants.
That raised questions about whether the county could be illegally holding inmates beyond their release date. The detainers called for jails to keep a suspect 48 hours beyond their release date, with even longer stays allowed on weekends.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Democrat who championed the original policy change, says the detainers wrongfully target U.S. citizens.
“Information from your office indicates that during the month of December…there were approximately 259 persons in your custody subject to ICE detainers. If our information is correct 57 claimed they were U.S. citizens,” Garcia said. “If the ICE detainers were being honored it’s conceiveable that someone who had an ICE detainer request pending…could have been held up to 48 hours against their will.”
The county shelled out $72,000 in taxpayer money to settle two separate 2008 lawsuits involving five inmates over the detainers, Patrick Driscoll, a deputy in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said during the hearing.
Commissioners and Dart said the county is wearing the jacket for problems prompted by the ICE detainers. Even though an invite was extended, ICE officials – who have criticized the county’s new policy – didn’t agree to testify, prompting Dart and Commissioner John Daley to blast them.
“I find it beyond stunning to be quite frank with you that ICE is not here,” Dart said. “They profess to be so concerned about this…and at times outraged about things, but can not show up here? That’s outrageous.”
Daley added: “It is a disgrace that ICE isn’t here and we know the federal government isn’t going to resolve this issue.”
Late in the day, an ICE spokeswoman in Chicago issued a release stating: “ICE has been working – and will continue to work – with county officials on an individual basis to address this important issue. While local governments decide how to approach law-making in their communities, ICE will continue to enforce the nation’s federal immigration and customs laws.”