Illinois Sheriff Sued for Refusal to Honor ICE Immigration Detainers

Illinois Sheriff Sued for Refusal to Honor ICE Immigration Detainers

From the beginning, the Obama administration has made the claim that the “selective deportation” scheme it initiated did not apply to dangerous criminals. Only peace-loving, law abiding illegal aliens would be allowed a stay of deportation proceedings, they explained.

But how is this permissive deportation policy working “on the ground” in municipalities across the country? Let’s consider Cook County, Illinois.

Judicial Watch recently filed a lawsuit in the Cook County Circuit Court challenging Sheriff Tom Dart’s refusal to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detainers or cooperate with ICE in identifying criminal illegal immigrants for deportation. Cook County jails have released as many as 1,000 criminal illegal aliens sought by ICE in the past 18 months alone.

And are any of these individuals dangerous? You bet.

We filed our lawsuit, in partnership with Illinois counsel Christine Svenson, on behalf of lifetime Cook County resident Brian McCann, whose brother, William “Denny” McCann, was run over and killed in June 2011 by an unlawfully present illegal alien who had just completed a two-year term of probation for a 2009 DUI conviction.

The illegal alien, Saul Chavez, was charged with felony aggravated driving under the influence, but was released by Dart from a Cook County jail in November 2011, despite an ICE immigration detainer. ICE issues detainers when it learns that criminal aliens are being held by state or local law enforcement officials. The detainers require that criminal aliens be held for an additional 48 hours to enable ICE to take custody of them before they are released.

But Chavez was not detained and turned over to authorities as instructed by law. He was instead released, and is believed to have fled to Mexico.

Federal and state laws are clear. They require Dart to honor immigration detainers and cooperate with ICE investigators. So how did this happen? Evidently Dart, instead of following federal and state laws, chose to abide by a September 2011, Cook County ordinance directing him to refuse ICE detainers. He also denied federal agents access to Cook County facilities for investigative interviews.

You read that correctly. A county ordnance instructed Dart to ignore federal immigration laws, a move so egregious that even ICE Director John Morton, the “father” of selective deportation, was shocked to hear it.

In a January 2012 letter to Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, ICE Director John Morton wrote, “Of great concern is the serious impediment the ordinance poses to ICE’s ability to promote public safety through the identification of criminal aliens.”

Too little, too late to save the life of Mr. McCann. But there is still yet an opportunity to hold Dart accountable, to make certain this sanctuary policy is stopped and to help protect other families from criminal aliens.

Our lawsuit argues that Dart’s “failure to carry out his legal duties under both federal and state law is not authorized, excused, or justified by the ordinance because that ordinance is preempted by federal law.”

(To see a sample of the significant news coverage of our Chicago press conference announcing the lawsuit, click here.)

The release of Chavez is one of more than 1,000 instances cited by Judicial Watch where Dart has “regularly and routinely refused to honor immigration detainers issued by ICE, citing the provisions of the Ordinance.” Here are some other details on this unlawful practice:

  • “At a public hearing on February 9, 2012 before the Board of Commissioners of Cook County, Defendant testified that, in the five month period between the enactment of the Ordinance on September 7, 2011 and February 9, 2012, Defendant released 346 prisoners in his custody who were the subjects of immigration detainers issued by ICE, and 11 of these persons subsequently committed new offenses.”
  • “By April 24, 2012 ICE had issued 432 immigration detainers to Defendant since the enactment of the Ordinance, but Defendant failed to honor any of the detainers. According to a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to [then-]U.S. Senator John Kyl on that date, Defendant’s failure to honor ICE’s immigration detainers had “prevented ICE from considering removal proceedings against all but 38 of these individuals whom ICE had to locate independently and arrest following their release into the community.”
  • “Between April 24, 2012 and March 1, 2013, Defendant received approximately 503 additional immigration detainers issued by ICE, and, on information and belief, has declined to honor any of them, resulting in the release into the community of hundreds of additional prisoners sought by ICE.”

The lawsuit also alleges that despite Dart’s refusal to honor ICE immigration detainers or cooperate with ICE investigators, Cook County applied for and received nearly $2.3 million in State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funds from the federal government in 2011 and over $1.7 million in SCAAP funds in 2012. Over the five-year period from 2008 to 2012, Cook County reportedly applied for and received nearly $15 million in SCAAP funds from the federal government. SCAPP funds are designed to fund the costs that state and local governments incur for holding criminal illegal aliens.

So, in other words, they got the funding specifically targeted for detaining illegal aliens but then released 1,000 of them onto the streets. So what happened to the money?

In the lawsuit, McCann asks the Circuit Court to compel Dart to comply with his legal duties to honor ICE detainers and to cooperate with federal immigration officials. It also asks the Circuit Court to declare the Cook County ordinance to be preempted by federal law.

The federal government has determined that certain criminal aliens should not be let loose into the community and that releasing them undermines public safety. There is no question Dart is thumbing his nose at the federal government and replacing federal immigration priorities with Cook County’s own immigration policy. Releasing these criminal aliens before they can be taken into custody by ICE endangers the public, and Dart is not above the law. 

But while it would be tempting to lay all of the blame for this situation at Dart’s feet, the Obama administration must share it. First off, Obama administration officials have failed to sue Dart in the president’s backyard, leaving it to concerned citizens like Brian to bravely step up to the plate to protect the public.

And then there is this: Where in the world would a county Sheriff get the idea that it is permissible to ignore federal immigration laws and allow criminal illegal aliens back onto the streets?

Back in 2010, when the Obama administration’s “selective deportation” scheme first exploded into the news, it was reported that ICE Director Morton had authorized ICE attorneys via an internal memo to block deportation proceedings for illegal aliens who were deemed “low-risk.”

Of course, this turned out to be a lie. A spreadsheet obtained by Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) listed the specific violent crimes that immigration officials were prepared to overlook. They included: sexual assault, solicitation of murder, aggravated assault, assaulting a police officer, and kidnapping, as well as numerous drug charges.

The Obama administration set the example. And now the American people are paying for it – with their very lives in some cases – in Cook County and in other cities and counties across the country. Politicians pushing amnesty here in Washington would rather avoid talking about how the sanctuary policies that they are promoting are threats to the public safety. But politicians (whether in DC or in Cook County) must stop putting politics over the rule of law – or they may see us in court.

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