Illinois counties that made millions from ICE contracts sue over law banning detention in state

Illinois counties that made millions from ICE contracts sue over law banning detention in state

Illinois earlier this year passed a law that effectively ends immigration detention in the state, roughly two years after banning private immigration detention facilities. It’s a blueprint that states all over the nation should copy to unclench the grasps of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on communities.

But this victory could now be at risk. Injustice Watch reports that two Illinois counties that have profited to the tune of millions from federal contracts have sued over the law. While the state will fight it, “the counties have asked U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard of the Northern District of Illinois to issue a temporary injunction that would allow them to keep their ICE contracts while the case is litigated,” Carlos Ballesteros reports.

The Illinois Way Forward Act, signed into place by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker this past summer, instructs local jails to end their ICE contracts by the beginning of next year and prohibits renewing any existing agreements. Immigrants who call the state home noted the immense personal stakes at play, saying the law’s passage has “greatly reduced ICE’s ability to separate me, my family, and my community from our homes.” 

But for the two counties now seeking to end this historic law in the courts, it’s not trying to hide that its case is all about profits.

“McHenry County brought in more than $8 million per year through its contract with ICE from 2016 to 2020, according to the lawsuit, more than it took in from state income taxes over the same period,” Injustice Watch reported. “Kankakee County took in nearly $4 million per year through its ICE detention contract from 2017 to 2020, close to as much as it earned in sales taxes over the same period.”

State @SenatorCelina Villanueva, who co-sponsored the Illinois Way Forward Act, said the counties challenging the law in court are showing that “what they care about is the dollars associated with the criminalization of immigrants in this country.”

— Injustice Watch (@injusticewatch) November 18, 2021

The report notes that a recent decision in California “could bolster the counties’ case.” The immigrant rights movement there also won a historic victory back in 2019, when the state passed a law banning private, for-profit prisons. That included facilities that detain immigrants. While a lawsuit led by private prison profiteer GEO Group was lost in October 2020, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel overturned the law last month. California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, has since said he’s seeking a rehearing in front of a full panel.

“The record is clear: For-profit, private prisons and detention facilities that treat people like commodities pose an unacceptable risk to the health and welfare of Californians,” Bonta said.

Injustice Watch noted that a major concern among immigrants and their advocates is what happens to detained people after a contract ends. This has been a significant concern in areas where communities have won an end to immigration detention contracts, like New Jersey. The answer really is as simple as it seems: ICE can just release them to their families and communities. But instead, ICE has just transferred immigrants elsewhere.

In New Jersey, Bergen County was the remaining locality to hold an immigration contract still. But earlier this month, officials instead transferred the remaining immigrants to New York.

“Just after the stroke of midnight, people were roused from their sleep and told that they were being transferred,” the Interfaith Campaign For Just Closures said in a statement. “At least one person was able to place a call to a family member to let them know what was happening before they were placed in vans and driven through the night, for seven hours, arriving after dawn on Friday morning at the Buffalo Service Processing Center.”

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