Immigrant Detainee Law Faces Pitfall

An Illinois law aimed at ending federal immigration arrests in the New Year faces another legal hurdle, delaying a change that immigrant rights advocates had celebrated and considered historic.

Local governments in Illinois cannot enter into new federal agreements that allow prisons to house immigrant detainees and must end those in effect in 2022 under the law Governor JB Pritzker signed in August.

Other states, such as Maryland and New Jersey, have enacted similar laws.

Three Illinois counties that have those federal agreements faced a January 1 deadline to terminate the contracts. While one county in southern Illinois adjusted to the measure last year, two others are embroiled in a federal lawsuit for challenging the law.

The case was thrown out last month, but a federal judge granted an extension Thursday while an appeal is considered. Authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties now have until January 13.

Immigrant rights activists have celebrated the law for months. They said the incarceration of people awaiting immigration procedures is inhumane and costly. However, other parties, such as authorities in McHenry and Kankakee counties, argue that they will lose income and that ending the contracts creates new complications such as removing detainees from their families.

“This decision will have no impact on the release of the detainees,” Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said in a statement after the lawsuit was dismissed. “In fact they will no doubt be transferred to other states, forcing the families of the detainees to travel further afield to visit loved ones, all due to typical partisan Illinois politics in Springield.”

In the southern tip of Illinois, the Pulaski County Detention Center removed all detained immigrants over the weekend that spanned Labor Day. Most of the 50 or so detainees were transferred to one of the other two facilities in Illinois or to Kansas.

Initially three were released, and more will be released in the coming days during a process in which detainees are allowed to present evidence about their cases. A total of 15 detainees were released, according to court documents.

“I was very happy. Even crying. I thought it was a miracle, ”said Ángel, an immigrant from Honduras who declined to give his last names due to his pending immigration case. Ángel, who has four children, fled Honduras due to gang violence.

He was detained for about a month after police found him asleep in a parked vehicle because he was drinking. He turned himself in to immigration authorities. After being released from Pulaski over Labor Day weekend, he was reunited with his family in Indiana, according to Diana Rashid, an attorney with the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center.

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