News - McHenry County

Law and Government Committee votes against resolution to end ICE contract

The topic is still planned to go before the full County Board for a final decision at its Aug. 18 meeting.

McHenry County Board member Michael Vijuk, seen here, during an Administrative Services committee meeting in February, has submitted a resolution to bring an end to McHenry County's contract with ICE.

A resolution to end McHenry County’s contract with ICE was shot down in a Law and Government Committee meeting of the McHenry County Board Tuesday morning.

Committee members voted, 6-2, against ending the contract following a lengthy discussion where concerns centered on the millions the county would lose out on if the contract ended.

Voting no were members Jeff Thorsen, Chuck Wheeler, Michele Aavang, Bob Nowak, John Jung and Thomas Wilbeck, while Carlos Acosta and Kelli Wegener voted in favor of the resolution.

The topic still will discussed by the full County Board at its Aug. 18 meeting.

Michael Vijuk, the McHenry County Board member who proposed the resolution, said he was disappointed in Tuesday's committee vote, but is eager to debate the issue before the full board.

He wanted to discuss ending the contract now since the board putting together its 2020-21 budget. The last time the board agreed to the contract was in 2014, Vijuk said.

"There is a great deal more interest in the county, as well as in the state, as well as in the nation, to not have ICE detention facilities in a governmental agreement," Vijuk said.

Although the resolution failed in the committee meeting, Jack Franks said it can still go up for discussion in new and unfinished business at the full board meeting.

Franks, whose grandfather was an undocumented immigrant who arrived in the country illegally, said he is for the ending of the contract, and that he blames the federal government for not doing its job when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform.

He added that there are other ways to the county could make up the revenue.

Of the eight community members who spoke on Tuesday, most were in favor of ending the ICE contract.

Among them was Liliana Garcia, a Harvard resident, who spoke about the fear having an ICE detention center poses for people.

Although her parents are legal immigrants, she said is concerned for undocumented members of her family.

"They live in fear every day, that if a right turn wrong, or if they don't stop all the way, they'll get pulled over, they'll get taken to detention centers," Garcia said. "It's not just grown adults that come here, it's children."

Those opposed to the ICE detention center argued that this is about the moral consequences of having such an agreement with the agency, while one person talked about the potential economic impact of removing a part of the community from work.

Martin McLaughlin, village president of Barrington Hills, said he strongly opposes the ending of the contract with ICE.

"Each of you swore an oath as I did to uphold the law of the state constitution and the federal constitution," he said.

McHenry County earns $95 a day for each ICE detainee held at the McHenry County Jail.

McHenry County would lose about $5.5 million in revenue this budget year if the contract isn't renewed,County Administrator Pete Austin said. That estimate is lower than the $6.8 million the county has earned on average over the three previous years, as there has been less ICE activity and fewer detainees in the county because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those dollars go into the county's general fund, not directly to the sheriff's office.

The county would also be shedding expenses were the contract to end, Austin said, as fewer correction officers would be needed, and there would be reduced health care, food service, and utility costs.

"All I heard from that is that we value profit over human life," Garcia said.

Although committee member Carlos Acosta praised McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim for his job inside McHenry County Jail, Acosta said they need to look at what's happening in other areas.

"The jail does not live in a vacuum," Acosta said. "In the last three and a half years, in my opinion, ICE has gone from law enforcement to lawless enforcement."

Citing several news articles, Acosta talked about ICE detention centers that have done what he said is a "pathetic job" of controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Prim said McHenry County jail has no cases of COVID-19, and has installed a COVID-19 testing machine inside the facility.

Although there was one detainee who had a positive result, this man was never processed into the facility.

Committee member Jeff Thorsen said there are social and moral concerns on one side, and legal, financial and economic concerns on the other side, both of which are valid.

"I don't see where we are meeting our obligation to our oath of office by eliminating this contract, but I do see a potential disregard for the rule of law," Thorsen said.

Acosta said if the contract is not renewed, all it means is that McHenry County will be the same as the 99 other counties that don't have an agreement with ICE.

If the resolution is approved, the contract will be terminated on Nov. 30.

Cassie Buchman

Cassie Buchman

Cassie is a former Northwest Herald who rcovered Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills.