Cook County Pressured to Reverse Sanctuary Policy

By Jessica M. Vaughan on January 6, 2012

Commissioners in Cook County, Ill., (which includes Chicago) are starting to feel some heat over an ill-conceived ordinance they enacted in September, requiring the county sheriff to ignore ICE requests to hold criminal aliens to enable the agency to initiate removal proceedings (detainers).

Over the last few months Sheriff Tom Dart, who originally raised no objection to the policy, has released more than 100 illegal alien criminals from his jail back to the streets, some of whom have since committed new crimes, including assaulting police officers. Upon hearing from one dead victim's family about how the sheriff had released their loved one's killer, enabling him to flee from justice, Commissioner Timothy Schneider has said this is Cook County's "Willie Horton moment". Schneider has vowed to introduce a new ordinance later this month to correct the policy.

In June 2011, an illegal alien and habitual drunk driver named Saul Chavez ran over and killed Dennis McCann, of Chicago. Chavez had recently finished a sentence of two years of probation for an earlier aggravated drunk driving offense. The judge set bond at $250,000, and ICE issued a detainer, but just before Thanksgiving, Chavez's brother appeared with the $25,000 cash, so the sheriff's office took the money and let Chavez run. After Chavez missed a court date (surprise!), police paid a visit to his house to take him back into custody. His roommate, the brother, insists he's just out running errands, but police have concluded that he has fled. (Anyone think of checking out the brother's status and how he came up with the money?) More details are in this Chicago Sun-Times column.

Dennis McCann's family is not only grief-stricken at this senseless and preventable loss (Chavez should have been turned over to ICE after his first offense), but astounded at how indifferent the county government and ICE have been to this outcome. They have written to all the commissioners asking them to rescind the ordinance, and tried unsuccessfully to obtain information from ICE on whether it gave the OK for Chavez's release.

The County Commissioner who sponsored the ordinance, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, has replied to Brian McCann, the victim's brother, in a three-page letter overflowing with legal fictions and delusional statements. In the letter, Garcia insists that obstructing ICE efforts to take custody of criminal aliens is necessary "to protect the integrity of the criminal justice process."

He also reveals that he has no idea whatsoever of how due process works in the context of immigration removal proceedings, which are administrative in nature. He makes reference to ICE failing to obtain a warrant from a judge; he apparently doesn't know or perhaps even care to understand that immigration judges do not have the power to issue warrants. Furthermore, the county sheriff does have authority to hold illegal aliens for a limited time in order to honor detainers filed by ICE. Garcia should fire the lawyer who prepared the letter for him, because even the most basic research would have revealed the existence of a federal regulation specifically permitting state and local police to hold aliens up to 48 hours (holidays and weekends excepted) – take a look at 8 CFR Section 287.7, which provides that a law enforcement agency "shall maintain custody of an alien" against whom a detainer has been placed.

After blaming the prosecutor for not convincing the judge to deny bail for Chavez, Garcia goes on to heap more blame on ICE for this situation, stating that ICE could have and should have taken custody of Chavez a long time ago, because he's illegal after all. Yet Garcia is one of those apologists for illegal aliens who throws a fit when ICE actually does arrest them. Garcia says that ICE has never approached Cook County about a cooperative agreement on detainers. That is simply a lie – ICE tried in vain for many months to get the county to sign an agreement to implement the Secure Communities program, but the county leaders refused. For Garcia to now pretend that he thinks ICE should have been deporting people like Chavez all along, when the ordinance that he sponsored was designed specifically to thwart that process, is an outrageous display of hypocrisy.

And, come to think of it, what about ICE? Why do they put up with the likes of Cook County? As I wrote in a previous blog, both the local ICE office and officials in Washington have declined to answer questions from the McCann family other than to confirm that they placed a detainer on Chavez. They have refused to say if they were notified that Chavez had made bail, and whether they decided not to take custody, as sometimes happens. In recent testimony before the House Immigration subcommittee, a senior ICE official acknowledged that ICE sometimes releases illegal aliens charged with drunk driving, even while claiming these individuals are a priority for removal. The subcommittee is now looking into just how many offenders ICE has taken a pass on, and how many more crimes they have gone on to commit.

Brian McCann also wrote to the DHS task force assembled by the White House to recommend changes to ICE's detainer policies. He testified before this group several months ago, when they visited Chicago, told the story of his brother's death, and asked the task force not to endorse changes that would make it harder for ICE to remove felons and drunk drivers. Instead, the task force urged ICE to expand its use of prosecutorial discretion, hold off issuing detainers until after illegal aliens are convicted of serious crimes, and to provide detainees with more representation – hence the new hot line and other dubious reforms.

Chuck Wexler, the chairman of the task force, who also runs the Police Executive Research Forum (a Ford Foundation creation that works to dissuade local cops from cooperating with ICE), sent a letter back to McCann full of platitudes and assurances that, of course, the task force agrees that drunk drivers are bad and should be subject to immigration charges – but he doesn't mention that the task force also urged ICE to accommodate local governments, like Cook County, that want to obstruct immigration enforcement.

Would it really be so difficult for all of these people whose agendas got in the way of Saul Chavez's prosecution, instead of avoiding questions or pointing fingers, to look Brian McCann in the eye and say, "I'm sorry – we made a mistake, and we'll try to fix it so it doesn't happen again"? Or, alternatively, have the courage of their convictions and admit that they really don't care about the victims of crime, because their overarching concern is to shelter and protect illegal aliens, even criminals, without reservation or exception.