The Illinois Sheriffs Association and an Illinois county official oppose new immigration legislation Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would sign that prohibits state cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Jim Kaitschuk, director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association (ISA) which opposes the Illinois Way Forward Act, told The Epoch Times, “I have a concern that we will not be able to maintain contact with the federal agencies. The  TRUST Act ruled that we could not detain someone solely for an immigration detainer, but we could have contact with the federal government to let them know who we had in our custody; the new bill rules that we can’t participate, support or assist in immigration enforcement action, unless presented with a federal criminal warrant or required to by federal law, including contacting them about someone already in our custody. Cops’ hands become tied.”
The act’s separation between state and local law enforcement officers and ICE will be so extreme: “If I saw an ICE officer being assaulted I cannot legally intervene on the officer’s behalf,” said Kaitschuk. State and local law enforcement officers also cannot assist ICE with information sharing, detentions, and proceedings.
Even before the Illinois Way Forward Act, the hands of Illinois police and sheriffs had been tied under the TRUST Act, said those who spoke to The Epoch Times. “I recently stopped a motorist who had a driver’s license from Romania that I could not even read,” said Kaitschuk, who works the street as a law enforcement officer. “If I would have asked him where he was from, I would have been breaking the law.”
Board Chairman Michael Buehler of Illinois’ McHenry County also opposes the Illinois Way Forward Act. He told The Epoch Times that under current Illinois immigrant law, “local authorities are barred from allowing an ICE officer to even make a phone call in local or state law enforcement offices.”
The Illinois Way Forward Act is the “worst legislation passed in Illinois in 20 years,” said Buehler. It is “another example of liberal forces tying the hands of law enforcement and violating the rights of cities and counties.” McHenry County, a Chicago exurban area, “is one of the last ‘collar counties’ to still be a Republican majority and it is in the Democrats’ crosshairs,” he said.
Under the Illinois Way Forward Act, local law enforcement agencies will be held “accountable” if they are caught working with ICE, according to Democratic state Senator Omar Aquino who introduced the bill and serves a district in Chicago.
New Immigration Legislation Will Also Close Detention Centers
Illinois’ 2019 Private Detention Facility Moratorium Act already banned private prisons that detain illegal immigrants, but under the Illinois Way Forward Act, three Illinois detention facilities that have contracts with ICE in the counties of Kankakee, McHenry and Pulaski will be required to close by Jan. 1, 2022. No new contracts may be written under the Act.
“Some of these communities rely on their contracts with ICE and if these facilities close, the detainees will simply leave the state of Illinois,” said Kaitschuk. “Their detention in Illinois facilities is not just for immigration violations but for serious crimes and felonies.”
Buehler, in whose county the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility is located, says he objects to the closure for two reasons. “First there is the moral issue—we are unable to collaborate with our federal partners to ensure national security, border security, and public safety. Secondly, the prison provides $10 million a year in county revenues which helps lower our citizens’ taxes.”
Closing the prison will not serve the objectives of immigration activists who want to reunite families either said Buehler—it will “further separate families as detainees are moved to other states.” Nor are detainees at the McHenry facility just from Mexico or Central America as many think; they come from 27 countries including the Ukraine and China, said Buehler.
Still, Assistant Majority Leader Lisa Hernandez, the Illinois House’s chief sponsor of the act, says “Immigrants who have contact with the criminal legal system and are in ICE detention have served their time. They deserve to be reunited with their families just like anyone else.” Deporting an immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally and has completed a sentence is a “double punishment,” said Rep. Hernandez in a press release. “We are refusing to facilitate this double punishment for immigrants.”
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, 900,000 citizens residing in Illinois are at risk of deportation (pdf).
Leaders Disagree About Immigration Legislation
Chicago has long been a sanctuary city, a municipality that limits its cooperation with the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration law.
When former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the TRUST Act into law in 2017, supporters speculated that illegal immigrants would be more likely to report crimes or assist with them if they did not fear deportation. Former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton even said that relieving police of “doing the work of federal immigration agents” was “a better use of limited resources.”
But Illinois law enforcement officials convey alarm at the ICE firewall that the Illinois Way Forward Act will create. According to Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, officers have now been instructed to release undocumented felons who are leaving Illinois corrections facilities even when they have federal immigration “holds” on them. Previously the felons had been transported to the Jerome Combs Detention Center. As many as 223 individuals were transferred there in 2019 said the Sheriff.
After the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Way Forward Act in June, Chris Southland, president of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said, “Why would we not want to work with the federal authorities to make sure violent, illegal immigrants are not released (from local law enforcement custody) within our communities?” reported the Illinois newspaper the Pantagraph.
In 2020, four elected Illinois sheriffs filed a suit against the immigration-forgiving measures of the TRUST act, seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction. The Act “has both the purpose and effect of obstructing federal immigration enforcement in Illinois,” and “the federal government alone has the authority to establish immigration laws,” said the suit.
Law enforcement is not the only issue created by Illinois’ new immigration-friendly legislation. In a July interview on the radio station WJPF’s Morning Newswatch, Illinois Sen. Terri Bryant, a Republican from the southern Illinois city of Murphysboro, was asked about the cost to Illinoisans of the schooling, housing, health care, and welfare of the latest wave of recent undocumented immigrants. There has already been a change in Medicaid, the state-funded program for low-income residents, she said.
“You may be 55 years old in this state and a citizen and not eligible for Medicaid but if you are an undocumented immigrant, 55 years old and over, you are eligible.”