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Immigration rally held Sunday outside McHenry County jail

About 200 people showed up for ceremony, vigil

Cesar Vargas, New York's first openly undocumented lawyer, speaks during a candlelight vigil Sunday at the McHenry County jail in Woodstock.
Cesar Vargas, New York's first openly undocumented lawyer, speaks during a candlelight vigil Sunday at the McHenry County jail in Woodstock.

Activists gathered Sunday night in Woodstock for a vigil for people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to protest the separating of families at the border.

About 200 people attended the rally held outside the McHenry County jail, which also operates as an ICE detention center.

An agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service allows McHenry County to charge $95 a day for housing immigration detainees. The county also is compensated $46 an hour for transporting federal inmates. Between January 2016 and September 2017, the jail earned $14,570,699 from the agreement, invoices show.

Immigration protests have spread across the country following a “zero tolerance” policy put into effect by the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has backed down from family separations amid bipartisan and international uproar.

The policy led officials to take more than 2,000 children from their parents as they tried to enter the country illegally, most of them fleeing violence, persecution or economic collapse in their home countries.

Cesar Vargas, New York’s first openly undocumented immigration lawyer, spoke at the rally. He since has gotten a green card and is working toward citizenship.

“I will never blame my mother for taking a chance to give me a better life,” he said. “We aren’t disputing our country’s efforts to keep us safe. But we are disputing an agency that terrorizes, detains and deports hard-working immigrants in our community.”

James Dittrich of Palatine attended the demonstration to voice support for the cause.

“It’s always been important, but recently it’s become egregious,” he said. “I wrote my letter to [McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks]. I wrote of my great uncle who lived here for 50 years.”

Dittrich’s great uncle came to America as an immigrant, he said.

“I wrote of his contributions to the county, and those are the kinds of contributions the county won’t get if they keep detaining people unlawfully,” Dittrich said.

Karena Bierman of Evanston said she agreed.

“There are only so many opportunities for you to take a stand and make sure your voice is heard and let people know you care about something like this,” she said. “And this was one of those opportunities.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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