McHenry County authorities are caught between a state government that seems to want to offer amnesty to undocumented immigrants and a federal government looking to remove them and keep them out.
Illinois’ latest step toward becoming what critics call a “sanctuary state” is the Trust Act, which forbids local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials in essentially any way beyond what it would do with members of the public.
The act passed with one Republican vote in the House and five in the Senate, and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in August. Its prohibition on local police enforcing immigration law on the streets makes sense. That will help prevent profiling and make it more likely that people of questionable immigration status will report crimes or bear witness.
If the act prohibits McHenry County and any others from housing federal immigration detainees in their jails, then it should be changed. The county long has rented space on the third floor of the jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshal’s Office. Although local officials have not given dollar figures in the past, state Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said the deal is worth $8.2 million a year.
Skillicorn and David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who both voted against the bill in the House, have called for the bill to be repealed, saying it could be a de facto tax increase for McHenry County if the jail contract is voided. Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, who voted for the act, said the likelihood of repealing the Trust Act is limited. She also said that although she is not opposed to going into a special legislative session to better flesh out the law given what has gone on in McHenry County, it does not necessarily mean she will change her mind. Even if the arrangement is allowed, county leaders should re-examine whether they want to be in the business of jailing people for profit, especially if it is going to influence decision-making.
Still, the bigger question behind the Trust Act is whether the state can forbid local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said that he should be able to decide how he enforces the law and in cooperation with whom. Niceforo Macedo-Hernandez, 46, of Crystal Lake, and two other McHenry County residents are suing Prim for this stance.
Macedo-Hernandez claimed that Prim violated the Trust Act by refusing to release him after he posted bail on domestic battery charges. Prim’s office also transferred Macedo-Hernandez to immigration authorities in violation of the act.
Generally, cooperation between law enforcement agencies is considered a good thing. But with Illinois and the federal government so out of step on the matter, the state is taking the extraordinary step of prohibiting state and local law enforcement from offering all but the most basic assistance unless they have a warrant. The Trust Act would have state law enforcement and corrections agencies totally ignore any immigration concerns, and it could cost McHenry County a multimillion-dollar federal contract. That’s taking protection of undocumented immigrants a little too far. At a minimum, people should have to be accountable for not being legal residents if they are convicted of a crime that lands them in jail or prison, and Illinois should try to keep that from happening.