June 14, 2021
McHenry County


'The struggle is real, the struggle goes on': Activists rally to end McHenry County jail's contract with ICE

Activists rally Thursday to end McHenry County jail’s contract with ICE

Sandra Davila is a naturalized citizen now, but as a formerly undocumented immigrant, the Elgin resident knows how challenging it can be to get to that point.

It can take a long time – Davila had to wait for six years – and require paying high fees.

“You’re just at the mercy of immigration, and you’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my job? What am I going to do with my family? What am I going to do with my friends? What am I going to do with my property, with my car, with my life?’ ” Davila said. “There is no way that you can move forward if you are always thinking of the fear that you’re going to be taken away.”

Davila, alongside about 30 other people, gathered outside the McHenry County courthouse Thursday to rally for the McHenry County Board to end its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The push to end McHenry County's contract with ICE has gone on for months with protests, a car caravan and numerous public comments at public meetings.

The last time the contract was discussed at length by the McHenry County Board was during an October meeting of the county's Finance and Audit Committee. At the end of the discussion, committee Chairman Mike Skala said he thought they were getting closer to understanding the "full picture" of the ramifications of continuing or discontinuing the jail's contract with ICE.

“I’m not here to discuss the ethical side of this,” Skala said at the time. “I want to get the financial side of it – what our committee is supposed to be doing – and provide that to the full board so that they have a financial picture so that they can make the best decision that they can make.”

He concluded that the committee would circle back on the issue when they received more complete financial information on the program from county staff.

No subsequent proposals to end the contract have been brought before the County Board and the December Finance and Audit Committee meeting was canceled. The last proposal brought forward by County Board member Carlos Acosta was tabled in August.

“The struggle is real, the struggle goes on,” Elgin resident Sherry Liske said. “If it takes a year, if it takes a lifetime, we always struggle for people in need.”

The rally was sponsored by several groups, including Standing up Against Racism Woodstock, Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Coalicion de Migrantes Mexicanos, Casa DuPage Workers Center and Federacion de Migrants Unidos por Veracruz.

Liske said it is important for ICE detainees at the McHenry County Jail to know that there are people who care for them, which is partly why the rally took place outside the jail.

Under the current contract, McHenry County is paid $95 a day for each immigrant detainee housed in the jail. County Administrator Peter Austin has said that the ICE contract brought in an average of $6.8 million a year in revenue over the past three years.

However, some financial documents have suggested the county is not making as much of a profit from housing immigrant detainees as was previously thought now that the detainee population has dropped.

At the end of 2017, the jail housed an average of 280 detainees. As of August 2020, that number was down to 154, County Board member Kelli Wegener said at the October meeting.

Based on her analysis of the financial reports provided by the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, Wegener said if the lower number of detainees held steady, the county would make an estimated $1.8 million annually, considerably less than previous years.

Those calling to end the ICE contract, such as Jose Lopez, of Woodstock, said the county is profiting off human misery.

“[ICE] has been used to harass every person who comes here as an immigrant,” Lopez said. “There’s been no use for ICE the way they intended it to. This isn’t stopping terrorists. It isn’t stopping evil people from coming over. It’s just stopping working-class people from living peacefully.”

When people are arguing about the profits being made from the ICE contract, they don’t see the human value of the immigrants they are talking about it, said Daniela Vandala, a McHenry resident who attended Thursday’s rally.

“Without immigrants, there wouldn’t be an America,” Vandala said.

ICE criminalizes people trying to thrive in this country, Davila said. She said she had family and friends who have been deported and it’s “heartbreaking to not be able to grow old with your family.”

“It’s not fair that we are here to share the love and they reply with fear and detention, and family separations,” Davila said. “There are human rights violations happening every day inside these detention centers, and it’s not OK.”