Debate over Illinois’ noncitizen prisoner release policy focuses on money, safety

The Illinois Department of Corrections policy of not holding undocumented immigrants upon release from Illinois prisons could be compounded by a U.S. appeals court ruling on Wednesday that allows U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to withhold federal funds from states and cities with sanctuary policies.

Illinois lawmakers passed the Trust Act in 2017. It prohibits state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation solely based on immigration status.

Proponents, such as state Rep. Elizabeth Hernadez, D-Chicago, said it was designed to protect immigrant communities.

“The Trust Act is really to allow folks to live their everyday lives to place some protections where they can go to work, they can go to the grocery store, they can take their kids to the doctors or to school,” Hernandez said. “And so it refrains from ICE using our law enforcement to do their job.”

On Tuesday, IDOC officials said because of the Illinois Trust Act they decided last month to no longer hold noncitizens for local sheriffs to house and transfer to federal immigration officials. The federal government pays for those housing costs, which brings in money for law enforcement agencies with federal contracts. A group of sheriffs said that puts the public in danger.

Hernandez, D-Chicago, said the sheriffs were just concerned about money.

“I think that they’re worried about is a revenue stream that comes their way, that’s the bottom line,” Hernadez said. “And it’s on the back of individuals who have already done their time.”

Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said Wednesday his office gets around $12 million from the federal government to house certain detainees. About $7 million, he said, is to hold fugitives for the U.S. Marshall. About $5 million comes from the federal government to house ICE detainees, at $90 per bed, per day. And while the lack of cooperation from IDOC could have a financial impact on his office, Downey said he was concerned with public safety.

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell agreed.

“This is not a political decision,” Campbell said. “This is we want to keep our communities safe and I think we’ll be safer if we cooperate with ICE and let these people’s immigration cases be heard.”

While Sangamon County doesn’t have any state prisons, Campbell said the spillover was a concern.

“We have one in Taylorville, we have one in Lincoln,” Campbell said. “These people could actually be released and make their way into Sangamon County and that’s my job – to protect the people here.”

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said the issue was more alarming after a U.S. appeals court ruled the Trump administration can withhold money from states and cities with sanctuary policies.

“There are crimes happening right now because of these misguided policies and we can’t forget if the federal government cuts off these grants it’s going to be a huge crush to our budget, but also it’s going to put law enforcement officers in danger,” Skillicorn said.

Supporters of the Trust Act have said it was meant to ensure undocumented immigrants don’t live in constant fear of being deported.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Tuesday that Illinois will be a buffer between the federal government and immigrants.

“As Donald Trump continues to advance policies that tear apart families and terrorize children, the Pritzker administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect immigrant families in Illinois,” said Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor. “The governor’s office is working closely with the Department of Corrections to review current policies, build on the progress made under the bipartisan Illinois Trust Act that was signed into law in 2017, and ensure the protection of immigrant families and all Illinois communities. As this work moves forward, the Department of Corrections will pause the majority of its interactions with ICE. The governor has made it abundantly clear that Illinois will be a firewall against the president’s attacks on immigrant communities.”

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