A contract with a private company that helps Kane County identify jail inmates who entered the country illegally is facing criticism about possibly providing a financial incentive to arrest and deport people.
The county contracts with Justice Benefits Inc. to secure federal grant money available to local jails that incur costs associated with housing inmates who entered the country illegally. The company identifies the inmates who fit that description, then applies for the federal funds and splits the money with the county. The agreement netted nearly $4.4 million over the past 12 years.
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Justice Benefits Inc. received a 22 percent cut, or roughly $962,000.
That contract is now up for renewal. This time, Justice Benefits Inc. would receive an 18 percent cut for the first four years.
But county board members Brian Pollock and Doug Scheflow said Friday they find it troubling that a private company is getting any cut whatsoever. It doesn't pass the smell test, Scheflow said at a meeting of the county board's judicial and public safety committee.
"It's just an odd thing, to me, to pay someone a commission for identifying noncitizens," Scheflow said. "I'm assuming it's all legal."
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said he had not personally reviewed either the expiring contract or the pending new deal. But he said everything presented about the contract Friday sounded perfectly legal.
Pollock said it's not the legal aspect he is worried about. He said he's heard from several constituents that, unlike many local municipalities, Kane County will jail you for certain traffic offenses as a prelude to deporting someone if they are identified as having entered the country illegally.
"This company is looking out for its own interests," Pollock said. "They are looking to identify as many people as they can. That does seem to conflict with what our law enforcement goals are. If people are not citizens, and we think (federal immigration officials) should take care of them, we should take care of that."
Three sheriff's deputies assured board members Pollock that Justice Benefits Inc. has no interaction with federal immigration officials. The company's only job is to identify inmates eligible for federal reimbursement funds, the deputies said. Immigration officials do their own, independent check of the inmate roster to identify people they want detained for possible deportation, they said.
Pollock said the issue is not if the county should be involved in possibly deporting people for traffic offenses. He's more concerned about paying a company a commission to identify inmates who entered the country illegally and the profit motivations that can inspire.
Pollock stopped just short of saying the agreement could inspire racial profiling.
"I won't go that far, but I will say that a company whose goal is to make money will look for more ways to make money," Pollock said. "That leads to looking for more people who may not have been part of the original group identified."
Sheriff Pat Perez could not be immediately reached for comment about the inmate identification and deportation process. But federal law enforcement and immigration officials refined policies late last year to address the idea that people arrested on charges of minor traffic offenses were getting deported.
Such deportations have a chilling impact on people reporting crimes and otherwise cooperating with police, officials said at the time of the change.
The new guidelines call for a deportation focus on people who entered the country illegally and have been convicted of serious or violent crimes such as felonies, drunken driving or sexual abuse.
The pending contract renewal with Justice Benefits Inc. must be approved by the full county board.