WOODSTOCK – With the dismissal of lawsuits accusing McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim of illegally detaining people based on their immigration status, the sheriff maintains that his agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was never in violation of state law.
McHenry County Judge Thomas Meyer dismissed the civil lawsuit Wednesday that accused the jail of violating the Illinois Trust Act by continuing to detain 34-year-old Pascasio Martinez for ICE agents.
“I restate now what I have said for the last six months – namely that throughout this we have followed the law, with public safety being our first and foremost consideration,” Prim said in a statement. “I am confident this issue is now behind us, and that public safety has at no time been compromised.”
The Trust Act bars local and state police from searching, arresting or detaining a person simply because of their immigration status.
During a Feb. 16 meeting with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board, Gov. Bruce Rauner said local law enforcement should cooperate with ICE agents, but confirmed that any immigration warrant not signed by a judge is not enough to detain a person.
“A lawbreaker needs to be held based upon breaking the law, not a detainer … and then they can be held under the law that way, and immigration officials should be notified immediately,” Rauner said. “That’s what this bill says, and immigration agents should be able to prosecute someone who’s here illegally.”
As of Feb. 14, the McHenry County Jail was holding 285 people for ICE, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said. Of those detainees, 255 were men and 30 were women.
On average, men will stay at the jail 29 days before they are released or moved to a federal detention center. Women typically spend 41 days at the jail, Rogers said.
“Every afternoon, ICE will send us a list of named detainees and their destination for the following day,” Prim said in an email. “Pursuant to our contract, arrangements are then made by our office to have those subjects transported to ICE’s desired location. We play no role in the decision-making process.”
The sheriff’s office said it could not release the lists because ICE prohibits the distribution of the names of its inmates.
“After the list is generated, those that are on it get transported the following day,” Rogers said. “They go all over the country, while some are deported. We have contractual inmates from ICE moving in and out of our facility daily.”
Prim has said the jail doesn’t keep anyone on simple ICE holds – rather, the only people held there for immigration matters are detainees provided to the county by ICE, in accordance with a contract between both parties.
McHenry County’s agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service charges $95 a day for housing immigration detainees. The county also is compensated $46 a hour for transporting federal inmates, according to the agreement.
Between January 2016 and September 2017, the jail earned $14,570,699 from the agreement, according to the sheriff’s office’s monthly invoices from that period.
Prim has taken the voluntary dismissal as a win, but Crystal Lake attorney George Kililis said his law firm, KRV Legal Inc., plans on taking Martinez’s case and that of another man, Niceforo Macedo-Hernandez, to federal court. Kililis did not say whether he planned to file multiple federal suits or one suit on behalf of several detainees.
“I believe KRV stated that they would be filing the following day, and to date, they have not done so,” Prim said. “I would have no comment on any suit that may or may not be filed.”
The county’s actions in compliance with the new law were brought into question almost immediately after the bill was signed.
At the time, Macedo-Hernandez had been jailed on a domestic battery charge since Aug. 9, and he continued to be held at the county jail on a detainer signed by an immigration officer rather than a federal warrant signed by a judge.
Kililis previously represented Macedo-Hernandez in a civil suit that named Prim and accused the sheriff of choosing to disobey and ignore the Trust Act.
Kililis also asked McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer in December to dismiss the misdemeanor charges against Macedo-Hernandez, arguing that the man’s due process rights were violated when he was transferred to an immigration detention center for 40 days after posting bond.
Feetterer denied the request.
“There is absolutely no vindication in what happened,” Kililis said. “We will not give up.”