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Cook County won’t hold felons for immigration

Thursday, September 08, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Eduardo E. Sanchez blew a red light, and then punched and elbowed a police officer who arrested him — sending the officer to the hospital earlier this week, authorities said.

But after being charged with a felony and several traffic offenses, the 32-year-old Southwest Side man posted 10 percent of his $25,000 bond and walked out of Cook County Jail Wednesday, thanks to an hours-old ordinance passed by Cook County commissioners.

While federal authorities had requested the sheriff’s office hold Sanchez for up to 48 hours after he posted bond, the new county ordinance instructs the sheriff to disregard those requests and release suspected illegal immigrants just like anyone else who posts bond.

While immigration advocates are hailing the new ordinance as a step toward equal treatment under the law, one Cook County Commissioner says Sanchez’s release underscores his concern that suspected felons — not just those arrested on minor misdemeanor charges — can now avoid federal authorities seeking to deport them.

“If you listened to the debate, many commissioners believed this did not affect individuals charged with serious offenses,” Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider said. “But that’s not the case and that’s the point I was trying to get across” during Wednesday’s debate, he said.

Steve Patterson, a spokesman for sheriff Tom Dart, backed that up in an e-mailed statement Thursday: “The [ordinance] affects anyone charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime who posts their bond or has their case adjudicated. If they also have an immigration detainer, normally that person would be turned over to immigration authorities within 48 hours. Instead, they will freely leave the jail.”

Cook County Commissioner Joan Murphy Thursday went as far as to say she “misspoke” when she earlier declared that only those locked up on misdemeanors would be impacted.

“It’s a misdemeanor — it’s nothing, this is the people that we’re talking about that are going to be released, not anyone that has a felony,” Murphy said during Wednesday’s meeting.

“That’s not what I meant,” Murphy said Thursday. “The point is that the majority are being held for misdemeanors.”

When asked at Wednesday’s meeting by Commissioner William Beavers, a South Side Democrat, about whether “dangerous criminals” might be released, the sheriff’s legal counsel Peter Kramer said: “In theory, yes.”

Commissioner Jesus Garcia, a Southwest Side Democrat and lead sponsor of the measure, said Thursday he doesn’t think there was confusion among some commissioners about what they were voting on. Instead, he and others believe that as the debate turned to questions about public safety, some of the details about which suspects would be affected got muddied up.

 And, he said, he has “confidence in the judges and the judicial system — if someone constitutes a threat to the community, they won’t go free,” Garcia told the Sun-Times by phone.

In addition, suspected illegal immigrants convicted of much more serious crimes would serve their terms in the state prison system and would not be impacted by the county’s ordinance, advocates of the new ordinance said.

As for Sanchez, he was among several inmates with ICE detainers who were charged with felonies but who posted bond and walked out of jail since Wednesday’s county board vote. He was arrested at 51st and Kedzie Monday for allegedly blowing a red light, according to police reports. He tried to run off and when an officer caught up with him, Sanchez repeatedly “punched” and elbowed the officer — injuring the officer, said Chicago Police spokesman Mike Sullivan. The officer was treated and released for minor injuries.

In addition to the felony — aggravated battery of a peace officer — Sanchez was hit with a number of traffic citations. He’s scheduled to appear before a criminal courts judge on Sept. 12th.



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