With felonies, deportation has its place

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/30/2011 5:00 AM

Trial and error is a hallmark of responsible government. It would be foolhardy to establish a law and never revisit it to see if it's actually working, if it's achieving the desired result.

Such was the case in May when Gov. Pat Quinn announced he was pulling Illinois out of the federal Secure Communities program, which calls for local jurisdictions to share information on undocumented immigrants and detain those who commit any offense -- felony or misdemeanor. traffic, violent or otherwise -- so the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could move to deport them.


Illinois counties -- notably Kane and Lake -- raised a ruckus about the mandates of that program because they were spending an inordinate amount of time, jail space and other resources holding people on paltry charges.

We then supported Quinn's decision and still do, on the grounds that the vast majority of people being held were nonviolent offenders -- not the people the federal program targeted. Secure Communities mandates were hurting more than helping us.

Now in Cook County, we have the opposite problem. On July 31, two Hanover Park police officers say they were assaulted on the job by four people and one of them tried to wrest an officer's gun from him. The suspects were charged with violent felonies.

ICE agents put detainers on three of them as undocumented immigrants. But after they posted bond, the Cook County Sheriff's office freed them pending trial.

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Understandably, Hanover Park Village President Rod Craig is angry.

The Cook County Board earlier this month passed an ordinance giving Sheriff Tom Dart the ability to ignore the two-day holds from ICE, the thought being that the additional time in jail is a burden on the county's budget.

But it's not just undocumented immigrants with traffic tickets who are being freed. People charged with felonies are being released, too.

Cook County has thrown out the baby with the bath water. County Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Bartlett knows that. He said recently he would push for an amendment to that ordinance that would still honor ICE holds for people charged with or convicted of felonies.

That is a sensible adjustment.

The sticky wicket remains: Whenever someone is charged with a crime -- whether he or she is native born or an undocumented immigrant, whether the case involves a speeding ticket or a sexual assault -- shouldn't that person's case be adjudicated in an American court?

It's a valid question, one wrapped up in the tension between public safety and consistency.

But ultimately, we are talking about people believed to be in the country illegally. Suspicion of a serious violent crime is a reasonable tipping point and surely justifies the consideration of deportation.