By Michael Volpe
CHICAGO – Democrats in Barack Obama’s adopted home of Chicago’s Cook County want to keep letting criminal illegal aliens loose on the streets, despite efforts from Republicans to rein in individuals like Saul Chavez, who was accused of vehicular homicide but is on the lam after officials refused to honor a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer on him.
On Sept. 7, 2011, Cook County took the drastic step of voting to refuse to cooperate with ICE detainers.
A detainer is a hold, up to two business days, that ICE puts on a municipal prisoner with an immigration violation who otherwise normally would be released, either because their sentence ends or because they’ve paid their bond. By refusing to comply with these detainers, Cook County inmates also flagged by ICE now are being released rather than turned over to ICE.
According to the ordinance, ICE agents aren’t even allowed to enter the premises of Cook County jail.
This week the four Republicans on the board, along with Democrat John Daley, introduced an amendment to the ordinance that would significantly curb the original plan. Liz Gorman, a Republican from the south suburbs, demanded a vote be held immediately.
“It shouldn’t go to committee, because we’re letting felons out on the street and we need to protect the public safety,” said Commissioner Gorman. Gorman pointed out that illegal aliens accused of crimes such as assault, drunk driving, and grand larceny (many repeat offenders) were among those released as a result of this ordinance.
She continued, “When we originally passed this ordinance, it didn’t go to committee, it went right through.”
But the largely Democratic board was having none of it and instead approved a motion to move the amendment to the Committee on Legislation and Inter Governmental Affairs. That committee is chaired by Larry Suffredin, of Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago.
This means it will be weeks before a final vote will be held and Cook County will continue to ignore all ICE detainers in the meantime.
While the board will give the new amendment a hearing over the next month, its chief sponsor, Tim Schneider, a Republican from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, now doesn’t expect it to pass.
“I don’t expect this amendment to pass in its current form,” said Schneider.
The original ordinance passed on a largely party line basis last year.
Only John Daley, brother of the more famous Richard and Bill Daley (former Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff) crossed party lines. It passed 10-5 with one commissioner absent and another abstaining.
The bill’s chief proponent, Jesus Garcia, has stated his support publicly for the ordinance, even in the aftermath of the Chavez case.
The proposed amendment to the ordinance would give discretion to the office of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. It would also open up the jails to ICE.
For any inmate accused of a felony, cooperation with the ICE detainer would become mandatory.
The amendment was introduced as the county deals with the case of Saul Chavez. He already was convicted of drunk driving, when, according to police reports, on June 7 of last year he was inebriated and hit a pedestrian, Denny McGann, who was attempting to cross the street.
Chavez attempted to flee and subsequently dragged McGann 200 feet. McGann died shortly thereafter. ICE immediately placed a detainer on Chavez, who’s in the U.S. illegally, but on November 20, Chavez posted bond. Because Cook County no longer complies with ICE detainers, he was released.
He missed his next court date and hasn’t been seen since.
Proponents of the ordinance, namely Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Garcia, have blamed bond court for the incident, arguing that Chavez should never have received a bond he could afford to pay.
A resolution to study bond court reform was also passed this week.
The Cook County Board hopes to invite all stakeholders: ICE, the Cook County sheriff’s office, along with activists, when the committee looks at the issue.
The ordinance has become a black eye and public relations nightmare for Cook County.