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State bill would prevent local governments – like McHenry County – from housing federal immigration

A Senate bill currently under review at the committee level by state lawmakers in Springfield could force the end of McHenry County’s agreement with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to house immigration detainees at the jail.

Senate Bill 667, introduced by state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, has language prohibiting law enforcement and local government from entering into or renewing federal contracts to house and transport individuals for civil immigration violations.

Discussion of the bill comes as McHenry County officials grapple with the future of a contract between the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and ICE about holding immigrant detainees at the McHenry County Jail.

McHenry County officials and area state lawmakers had mixed reactions to the bill, saying work must be done to address immigration issues but disagreeing on how that can be achieved.

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said he doesn’t support the legislation.

“As long as local law enforcement agencies – state police, fraternal order of Illinois state police and the Illinois Sheriff’s Association – as long as they are opposed to this legislation, that tells me it is not necessarily the best interest of keeping our general public safe,” DeWitte said.

DeWitte did not vote on the bill April 28, the last time a committee weighed in on this topic. He voted in support of the legislation during an April 14 hearing.

Ultimately, DeWitte won’t support the bill if the committee brings it to a vote again.

“I don’t believe any of these local law enforcement agencies have been given a seat at the table while this legislation was being formulated,” he said. “The fact that those agencies that are charged with law enforcement at the local level, [authorities] are being handcuffed in their ability to work with or cooperate with immigration officials, unless there’s a federal criminal act that’s part of the process.”

McHenry County Board member Kelli Wegener, who introduced the resolution for the County Board to consider canceling the contract with ICE officials, said she fully supports the bill.

A McHenry County Board committee earlier this week moved her resolution forward for consideration at the County Board’s Committee of the Whole next meeting, set for May 13.

“There has been a lot of public support, rallies, phone calls and meetings around canceling the contract here,” Wegner said. “I think it’s something we should do.”

Wegener said the time is now for the county to act.

“I think at a local level and then if this bill passes at the state level, we’re sending a message to the federal government that we do not approve of detention centers as part of immigration policy,” she said.

DeWitte said the bill does have its positives.

“There are some good pieces in this legislation,” he said. “I think there are some definite advantages that immigrants illegal or otherwise may be entitled to and should have the right to.”

McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta said he also supports.

“We’ve been saying – some of us on the County Board – this isn’t just a federal concern,” Acosta said. “I appreciated that the General Assembly is taking the same tact that we share locally to try and end detention in Illinois.”

Acosta said he will do what he can locally to get the bill passed.

The legislation, if passed, stipulates that law enforcement agencies and units of state and local government will be able to terminate agreements to house or detain individuals for civil immigration violations no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

The bill currently is headed to committee May 10 for a third reading.

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