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Article posted: 11/5/2011 5:30 AM

Four U.S. Senators target controversial Cook County ordinance

Toni Preckwinkle

Toni Preckwinkle

 
Rod Craig

Rod Craig

 
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A recent Cook County ordinance allowing the release of suspected illegal immigrants is being called a "serious threat to the public's safety" by a group of U.S. Senators.

Four Republican members of the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee led by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa this week in a letter urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to take a direct role in compelling Cook County to reverse its earlier action.

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Approved in September, the ordinance disregards federal detainer requests by freeing suspected illegal immigrants charged with a crime if they're able to make bail.

"Cook County's ordinance is a serious threat to the public's safety that requires your immediate and personal attention," the letter states. "This is too important of an issue to go unresolved, and as a matter of national security, we urge you to take control of the situation so that detainers are not ignored and undocumented individuals are properly detained and put in deportation proceedings."

Joining Grassley in sending the letter were Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said he's yet to receive a response, which isn't unusual. No Democrats on the Judicial Committee, whose members include Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, were approached about signing.

When the local ordinance was brought up at an Oct. 19 committee hearing, Napolitano said she hadn't communicated with Cook County officials about the issue, nor had she discussed with the U.S. Justice Department how it will handle local jurisdictions such as Cook County that "harbor undocumented individuals."

The senators wrote that Gary Mead, executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Cook County presents a major problem for immigration enforcement efforts.

Mead went on to say that Cook County is the most egregious example of sanctuary city policies and that the situation is "an accident waiting to happen."

One person who believes such an accident already took place is Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, who blasted the county ordinance after three suspected illegal immigrants accused of assaulting two of his village's police officers were released back into the community rather than being detained by Cook County officials until they could be turned over to ICE.

He said he's most concerned that individuals charged with serious felonies, even first-degree murder, can go free.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wrote a letter to Craig defending the ordinance, saying that while she shared his concerns about police officer safety, the law saves money and keeps families together.

Preckwinkle spokesman Owen Kilmer said Friday that Cook County has received an opinion from State's Attorney Anita Alvarez that it was a legal course of action. She plans on asking each senator to meet with her to discuss the topic on her next trip to Washington, D.C., and encourages them to come to Cook County for a briefing if they "want to use ICE detainers as a political issue."

Craig said Friday that his opposition to the county ordinance hasn't eased.

"Immigrants are mostly hardworking, fine individuals, and I want to keep families together," Craig said. "But the county has legitimized something that is wrong and detrimental to our quality of life."

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