The law that prevents the state of Illinois from renewing or contracting with ICE detention centers – effectively limiting detentions – encounters obstacles to its implementation.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law in August 2021 that prevents local governments from working with ICE detention centers, and that forced local counties to end all current contracts before 2022. Other states that have sought to establish themselves as “sanctuary” states for migrants have also enacted similar sanctuary laws over the past year.
This achievement was celebrated by migrant rights advocates across the country, but a new legal hurdle appears to bog down the dreams of thousands of migrant families. Three Illinois counties defy the law, and two of them, McHenry and Kankakee counties, have filed a federal lawsuit.
Although the case was dismissed last month, a federal judge granted an extension of the contracts pending an appeal. The two plaintiff counties have until January 13 to resolve the situation.
McHenry and Kankakee counties authorities state that sanctuary laws are harmful to both counties and immigrants in the long term
Although migrant rights activists argue that detaining migrants is not only an inhumane process but also costly for the state, authorities in McHenry and Kankakee claim that they will lose income and local sources of employment. In addition, they stated that the sanctuary law creates new difficulties for immigrants in practice, such as further displacing detainees from their families.
“This decision will have absolutely no impact on the release of these detainees. In fact, they will undoubtedly be transferred to other states, while forcing the families of these detainees to travel much further to visit their loved ones, all due to typical Illinois partisan politics in Springfield.”
Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey testified.
Authorities in McHenry and Kankakee filed a lawsuit against the law in September, calling it an overreach by the state government. The contracts generate about $10 million a year, and are a source of funding and key jobs for these counties, which in total have the capacity to house up to 400 detainees.
In line with the declarations of county officials, faced with the prospect of the new law some private prisons in neighboring Indiana prepared to receive transfers from Illinois. However, this may not be the case for most current detainees, who might have a chance to be released in spite of the zeal of ICE agents.
Advocates rally against ICE detention centers: ‘The ultimate goal is abolition’
Advocates for migrant rights maintain that these transfers are only temporary and that they will fight for the release of all detainees in Illinois. The immigration detention center in Pulaski County transferred approximately 50 detainees to other facilities in Illinois or Kansas, but up to 15 detainees were later released, thanks to a process in which they were allowed to present new evidence about their cases.
“It is part of a larger strategy. The ultimate goal is to finally abolish detention”.
Stated Grisel Ruiz, from the California Legal Resource Center for Immigrants.
For most detained migrants, the sanctuary law is a great relief that allowed many of them to reunite with their families and continue with their immigration cases in a humane setting. And the vast majority of detainees were arrested on charges that were ambiguous or did not constitute criminal offenses.
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