Cook County plans hearings for law on jailed illegal immigrants

Updated 1/18/2012 8:16 PM

The Cook County Board will hear from law enforcement leaders about its controversial decision to ignore federal officials' requests to detain possible illegal immigrants who might otherwise be eligible for release from jail.

Some commissioners want to amend the policy, which was put in place in September, to reinstate such "holds" for suspected illegal immigrants who were accused or convicted of serious felonies. A committee hearing is likely in two weeks, county officials said, though no date has been set.

Prior to the new policy, Dart's office would hold any inmate for two days at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, even if the person jailed had posted bond or completed a court sentence.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle said commissioners want input from local, county and federal law enforcement officials after some complained that they hadn't been consulted prior to the board's decision in the fall.

"They were second-guessed and it wasn't appreciated," Preckwinkle said after Wednesday's vote.

Federal judicial decisions have determined that such holds are merely requests, not legal requirements, according to an opinion from Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Bartlett Republican county Commissioner Tim Schneider said he proposed the hearings at the request of Dart, who was not at Wednesday's meeting. Schneider was one of five commissioners who originally voted against the new policy.

"It's only a matter of time before one of these individuals who's let out because we're not granting these requests goes out and commits another crime or flees from justice," Schneider said.

Hanover Park Village President Rodney Craig blasted the new policy last fall after three suspected illegal immigrants accused of assaulting two of his village's police officers were released, rather than being detained and turned over to immigration officials.

Critics of the immigration holds contend they are unconstitutional and have resulted in American citizens being wrongly deported. They also claim that by ignoring the federal requests, the county saves millions of dollars that would otherwise go to house, feed and care for individuals unnecessarily.

Sheriff's officials in the past disputed the savings figures, noting they included costs for people who had high bail amounts and were going to be kept in custody even without a request by immigration officials.

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