Cook County Should Stand Strong With Immigrant Families

Last September the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance that required the federal government to reimburse the county for placing 48 hour immigration “holds” on people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Today the board will vote on an amendment that would reverse some parts of the ordinance, a vote that is fueled by attacks, misinformation, and criminalization of undocumented immigrants.

The passage of this legislation was a victory for immigrant families who continue to be threatened by record breaking levels of deportations. It was also a victory for the county’s beleaguered taxpayers who are estimated to spend $15 million a year holding other county residents in jail because federal officials think they might be undocumented. The ordinance makes our communities safer by breaking down fear and mistrust of the justice system in immigrant communities. Law enforcement is most effective when it works in cooperation with those it seeks to protect.
The passage of this legislation is a victory for immigrant families who no longer have to fear that a broken tail light could mean a mother not seeing her children for years.
However, the ordinance has recently come under attack by opponents who argue that the law jeopardizes public safety by freeing detainees who might present a threat to others or who might not appear in court. County Commissioner Timothy Schneider has proposed to amend the ordinance so that immigration holds continue to be enforced for people who are accused of committing felonies.
The Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass recently published an articlesupporting Schneider’s amendment that focused on the case of Saul Chavez. Last summer Chavez was arrested after running over killing a pedestrian while driving drunk. This fall he was released on 25,000 dollars bond. He failed to appear for a November court date and appearances indicate that he has jumped bail.When Kass reviews this case, he focuses on the fact that Chavez is a Mexican national who overstayed his green card. He argues that if Chavez had been detained for an extra 48 hours under an immigration hold, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to flee.Kass misses the point when he fixates on Chavez’s immigration status. Chavez was able to to flee because a judge in the criminal justice system decided to release him on bond.  The Chavez case is a criminal justice issue, not an immigration issue. We have an entire criminal justice system designed to protect the public from individuals who might be dangerous. The immigration system has a very different set of priorities. It doesn’t make sense to make the immigration system do something it wasn’t designed to do. It has much lower standards for due process and makes plenty of mistakes on its own. If we really want to make our county a safer place, we should instead focus on fixing the flaws in its justice system.

Kass and others seeking to amend the ordinance claim that they aren’t “anti-immigrant.” If this is true, then they shouldn’t set a double standard for immigrants who end up in Cook County jail. If the ordinance is amended, immigrants who are accused of committing felonies (accused, not convicted) will risk being deported and torn away from their families. Citizens charged with the same crimes will not face this threat even if they are just as likely to flee or endanger others.

Amending the ordinance will not contribute to public safety and will only perpetuate institutional discrimination against immigrants. It is important that we don’t let this amendment pass. Contact the Cook County Board right now and ask them not to give into the politics of fear and keep the Cook County ICE detainer ordinance intact.


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