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County won't pay for baseless deportations

Thursday, September 22, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Joshua Hoyt

Rigo Padilla is an honor student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was placed in deportation while in Cook County Jail after a misdemeanor driving offense. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials stationed at the jail placed a deportation detainer on him although he had been convicted of nothing and although a Cook County judge had determined that he did not pose a threat to public safety and found him eligible for release on bond.

In fact, Rigo was not released until after he had signed an ICE expedited deportation order, without understanding its consequences. Rigo's detention and processing cost Cook County taxpayers thousands of dollars.

The sum of expenses incurred by the county's taxpayers in complying with this wholly unfunded federal mandate in similar cases is estimated at approximately $15.7 million per year. It took many months, a grass-roots campaign led by his fellow students and professors, and the supportive intervention of both the Chicago City Council and five congressmen to stop Rigo's deportation and his permanent separation from his family.

Thanks to a Cook County ordinance passed Sept. 7 by a 10-5 vote, Cook County will require ICE to reimburse the county for holding people like Rigo beyond the time required by state law.

A recent federal court ruling (Buquer v. City of Indianapolis) makes it clear that ICE detainers are not criminal warrants, and that local jurisdictions can legally decline to comply. Commissioner Garcia, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez helped craft the measure — making sure it saved tax dollars, respected federal law and preserved public safety.

But Cook County government has also sent a strong message that our taxpayers will not subsidize the needless destruction of families.

ICE, of course, liked the old way better. Anti-immigrant activists have already begun a campaign of lies about this narrow, cost-saving measure. They say it will set dangerous criminals free. That's simply not true.

Cook County judges carefully consider whether someone poses a threat to public safety before setting bond, and suspected criminals who pose a danger to society are not bond eligible (meaning they will not be released before trial under any circumstance). Then, once someone has been convicted of a serious crime, he or she goes to state prison, where ICE automatically puts deportation detainers on prisoners, who are deported after they serve their time. Additionally ICE may still arrest anyone it suspects of immigration violations.

Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, D-Chicago, is a Cook County Board commissioner.

Joshua Hoyt is executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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