A group of Illinois sheriffs have taken to federal court to challenge a state law restricting local police cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim joined Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey and Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle in filing a federal lawsuit Monday against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
Together, the sheriffs are seeking injunctive relief from enforcing the Illinois Trust Act. The law, enacted in 2017, prevents local and state police from detaining a person based solely on their immigration status. Now the sheriffs are asking a judge to declare the Trust Act is "invalid," on the basis that it conflicts with federal law requiring officers to comply with requests to detain individuals on ICE's behalf.
"If public safety were not at stake, this would be a standard set of problems to resolve by our attorneys," Prim said. "But that’s why we have courts. Because public safety is at stake here, that makes the situation more urgent and in need of swift resolution."
Both the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office and the American Civil Liberties Union have said local compliance with ICE detainees are voluntary, and therefore doesn't conflict with state law. Even in McHenry County, where the local jail earns $95 a day for each ICE detainee it houses, cooperation with federal officers isn't mandatory.
Since 2005, the McHenry County Sheriff's Office has worked with the United States Marshals Service to provide bed space to house ICE detainees. Currently, the cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE is merely an agreement, and neither party has any contractual obligation to send or house detainees, McHenry County Administrator Peter Austin said.
The "flurry of lawsuits" filed against local law enforcement since the Trust Act took effect, however, is proof that federal and state expectations could use clarification, the sheriffs claimed in the suit.
"There’s three of us here today that are either being sued or have been sued in the past just because we have followed the law," Prim said in a video-recorded statement that was emailed to news media on Monday. "The argument is that we somehow should have magically understood that one set of laws in some way is better than the other."
Prim's office declined an interview request on the matter and would not provide further information on detainees at the jail.
Prim was named as a defendant on multiple lawsuits accusing the sheriff's office of violating the Trust Act shortly after former Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill on Aug. 28, 2017. Each of the lawsuits has since been dismissed. Ogle and Stephenson Counties are involved in ongoing litigation regarding alleged Trust Act violations.
"We have decided to file a complaint because during the last 2 1/2 years the Illinois Trust Act has been in place we have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile its demands with contrary demands from the federal government," VanVickle said in an official statement Monday.
Months before the suit was filed, Prim approached McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally about filing a similar complaint on the sheriff's behalf, court records show. Kenneally's office declined, however, calling the suit "ill-advised," and claiming it would "run afoul of the Tenth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from commandeering the states to enforce federal law."
If rulings on similar lawsuits are any indication, challenging the Trust Act wont bode well for the sheriff, Assistant McHenry County State's Attorney George Hoffman wrote in a February court filing.
"In fact, at least six federal courts of appeals have considered the exact issue [Prim] advances here and ruled that immigration detainers to not ‘require local law enforcement officers like the Sheriff to maintain custody of undocumented aliens for up to 48 hours,'" Hoffman wrote.
The ACLU, which filed suit against Ogle and Stephenson counties in November, agreed that Illinois' Trust Act does not infringe on federal requirements. In a joint statement issued Monday by the ACLU of Illinois and the National Immigrant Justice Center, both organizations called the lawsuit a "thinly veiled attempt to justify ongoing violations of the law."
"Nothing about the TRUST Act is unconstitutional. It simply doesn't comport with the way in which these four sheriffs want to conduct their work," according to the statement. "Law enforcement in Illinois cannot pick and choose which laws they follow and which they do not. We encourage the Illinois Attorney General to vigorously oppose this lawsuit.”
As for the timing of the lawsuit, David Devane, former McHenry County Sheriff's Office chief administration officer, said that as time went on, the conflict became increasingly apparent. Devane has since retired from the sheriff's office, but said he was heavily involved with immigration dealings at the jail when the Trust Act was enacted.
"We’re starting to see more lawsuits crop up," Devane said. "We need direction from the federal courts on this constitutional question."