Constable: Immigration activists push ICE to #FreeThemAll
Upholding a new state law called the Illinois Way Forward Act, a federal court ruling on Jan. 13 required McHenry County to end its contract to house immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the county jail in Woodstock. The ruling also ends the ICE practice of housing immigrants at the jail in Kankakee County.
A rally Sunday, with a caravan of honking vehicles outside the McHenry County Correctional Facility in Woodstock, featured representatives from the Coalition to Cancel the ICE Contract in McHenry County, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Organized Communities Against Deportation, the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants and the National Immigrant Justice Center.
With the availability of ankle monitors, phone apps and other technological tools to keep tabs on immigrants, activists don't want ICE to simply transfer the immigrants to correctional facilities in other states.
"In my mind, free them all. It's possible," says Amanda Garcia, an immigration attorney who says she's speaking mainly as a resident of Crystal Lake and McHenry County. "I'd like to see them try."
The Illinois attorney general's office defended the law in court and hailed the Way Forward Act as a way to build trust and collaboration between immigrant communities and law enforcement. ICE has not issued a statement about how it will adhere to the ruling.
The rally featured a #FreeThemAll mantra and urged the public to send notes telling ICE that detained immigrants should "be released to their communities where they can be close to their family and resources needed to fight their case." ICE already has freed some immigrants because of the pandemic.
In addition to bemoaning the loss of revenue from the contract with ICE, McHenry County issued a statement that read: "The forced termination of the contract will not mean that ICE will be releasing its detainees from the county jail; they will be relocated to facilities in other states, which will force families of detainees to travel much farther to visit while their loved ones await their hearings."
Garcia says that argument is "disingenuous." ICE always has the ability to move immigrants between facilities for whatever reason. "That's happened to clients of mine," Garcia says. "They were moved to North Carolina and Kansas. It happens all the time."
Distance isn't a barrier because most people meet with the detained immigrants through pay services that offer online and phone visits, Garcia says. Often, that is preferable because lots of family members can gather around the screen, or a mom can show off her new baby without having to drive to a jail.
Transferring immigrants to other facilities is expensive and doesn't remove the risks caused by the pandemic, she says.
Release wouldn't mean an end to the legal immigration proceedings. As for those who worry that immigrants will disappear into the streets, Garcia does not believe that would be a large-scale problem.
"Many do have family here or contacts here," Garcia says. Others could tie into charitable groups such as the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.
"That support network is there to catch them," Garcia says. "If you don't have family, we're your family now."
People with complex criminal backgrounds could be transferred by ICE and remain in detention, but many of the immigrants don't pose a danger, Garcia says.
Many of them are fleeing violence and threats from their native nations. She says you can look at influxes of immigrants from Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Caribbean nations, Bangladesh and elsewhere and see a pattern of natural disasters, war and political unrest.
"They are just people," Garcia says. "They are as ordinary and amazing as every average person."