Dozens packed the McHenry County Board’s conference room Tuesday evening to weigh in on a decision on whether the county should renew a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaving the discussion to die – at least for now.
In a 8-15 vote with board member Michael Skala absent, a resolution to cancel the agreement failed as both cries for support and opposition were voiced by members of the public.
Discussions on this topic were staged several times for more than a year.
Board member Joe Gottemoller called the resolution “a ludicrous idea,” saying it fails to address the premise that the County Board’s action could help ease the problem with the immigration system.
“Removing this contract will not solve that problem,” Gottemoller said. “This County Board doesn’t have the ability to solve the immigration problem in this country.”
Bull Valley resident Gary Rabine, who is a Republican candidate for governor, urged the County Board to vote a “common sense” no to the resolution.
“I worry about the safety of my family, my community and my country as we allow criminal illegal aliens – like many of the individuals housed here—to be protected better than our citizens,” Rabine said.
A common sentiment shared among those voicing opposition for the resolution surrounded the contract and how its cancellation could reward immigration detainees for entering the country illegally.
Woodstock resident Rafael Arellano disputed that argument, saying “it doesn’t mean that criminals are going to go free.”
“If we’re asking you to cancel that contract, [it’s because] we know how many families have been broken, families separated,” Arellano said.
The County Board has the ability to have a “ripple effect” on the issue of immigration helping to send a message to federal officials urging them to address it, supporters of the resolution argued.
Board member Theresa Meshes encouraged fellow County Board members to get behind the resolution, saying the County Board has more power to make a difference than it realizes.
Huntley resident Peter Atterberg made a plea to members of the County Board asking officials to “do the right thing.”
“ICE has become a fascistic enterprise, that is the fact of the matter,” Atterberg said. “No one is saying we shouldn’t have immigration laws. We definitely should. That is common sense. Every nation should.
“But what we are asking the board to do today is vote with your conscience and do what’s right. Those are human beings in there being detained because they came here for a better life. What is more American than fleeing persecution for a better life?”
The County Board has the ability to review the contract on a monthly basis in accordance to a modified agreement authorized in 2015, officials said. That means the fate of the contract could change in the event officials bring the topic back for review at a later date.
Board Chairman Mike Buehler said in a statement that he stands by the County Board’s decision.
“Tonight’s decision reaffirms our commitment to continue working in collaboration with our federal partners to ensure national security, border security, and public safety.” Buehler said in a statement. “I support the board’s decision to keep this contract in place. Immigration is a federal issue, and any decision made by the McHenry County Board regarding its ICE contract does not amend federal immigration laws as they relate to the detention of non-citizens. Without a mandate handed down from the federal government, which has the authority to change laws of this nature, our role is to adhere to federal statutes.”