(The Center Square) — Sheriffs suing the state in federal court said they want to clarify who would be liable if an illegal immigrant released under the constraints of the Illinois Trust Act hurts someone.
The Trust Act prohibits police from holding a person solely based on immigration status.
Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said the state’s Trust Act, enacted in 2017, has tied the hands of law enforcement officers at county jails.
“We contact [U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and say ‘hey, we have this individual and he’s going to bond out, and probably post bond in two hours,’ and if he posts that bond and ICE can’t get there, we cannot hold him,” Downey said. “That would be a violation of the Trust Act.”
Downey said several of the sheriffs have been sued and they expect more lawsuits.
Kankakee joined McHenry, Ogle and Stephenson counties in a federal lawsuit this week that seeks to have the Trust Act declared unconstitutional. Both Kankakee County and McHenry County have multi-million dollar contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house and transport people with ICE detainers.
Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle said in the last two-and-a-half years of the Trust Act has made it difficult for sheriffs to give clear instructions for deputies and correctional staff regarding illegal immigrants.
“It should surprise no one that the result has been a flurry of lawsuits which then requires them to devote time and resources for each of these counties to defend,” VanVickle said.
“It is the individual and private counsel who are suing the jails for violating the Trust Act,” Downey said.
The sheriffs said the state’s law contradicts federal immigration law.
“We cannot operate using two opposing systems at the same time and keep our communities safe,” VanVickle said. “We believe that clear direction from the court will resolve these contradictions.”
Downey said someone was going to be held liable if a person released by law enforcement hurts someone.
“It’s not the legislators, it’s not the governor, who are going to be held responsible, it’s going to be the local sheriffs who let this guy go,” Downey said.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office signaled it will defend the state law.
“The TRUST Act reflects the values of Illinois residents and serves to build relationships between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities instead of spreading fear based on immigration status,” spokesperson Annie Thompson said. “The Attorney General’s office maintains that the TRUST Act is constitutional.”
Downey said he was not sure how far the case will go, but said it could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’re willing to sit down and talk about it, obviously it sounds like the Attorney General is not, but we will continue to do what we think is right in terms of public safety,” Downey said.