Cook County halts federal immigration holds

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart can ignore requests from the federal government to hold suspected illegal immigrants for an additional 48 hours in jail after they’ve either completed their sentence or bailed out ahead of trial.

The county board voted 10-5 Wednesday to allow Dart’s office to halt the practice of employing such holds on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Commissioners Liz Gorman of Orland Park, Gregg Goslin of Glenview, Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park and John Daley of Chicago voted against the measure sponsored by Commissioner Jesus Garcia of Chicago.

Supporters of the initiative called the federal hold requests “unfunded mandates” and argued that “millions of dollars” would be saved if they were no longer allowed. They also complained such holds were unconstitutional and violated due process laws.

“What we’re doing here today is righting a wrong against people that are on the soil of Cook County,” said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat.

Federal immigration officials may still request such holds if they are willing to pay for them, according to the resolution. A sheriff’s department official said the cost of such holds amount to $143 a day.

Some commissioners suggested it would save as much as $15.7 million annually. However, that figure is based on the 270-plus detainees in the jail currently with immigration holds on them. Sheriff’s officials said the majority of those detainees are being held on high bond amounts or without bonds for serious felonies and are not likely to be set free any time soon.

Opponents on the board worried that it set a bad precedent and would allow convicted criminals to thwart deportation efforts.

“This ordinance in my opinion is a monumental mistake,” said Schneider, a Republican. “These people are going to go back into our communities and commit more crimes.”

Dart was not in the audience during Wednesday’s meeting. A spokesman for his office said he would follow the board’s decision on the issue and stopped short of making any endorsement of the resolution.

An opinion from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez gave the commission permission to move forward with the resolution. It cited judicial rulings that stated such holds were merely requests and not requirements.

Jesus Garcia