Local News

McHenry County lawsuit challenging Illinois Way Forward Act, which would close ICE detention center, dismissed by judge

McHenry County is appealing, but state’s attorney said it is unlikely they’ll get a subsequent ruling before the act’s Jan. 1 deadline

McHenry County Jail

McHenry County’s lawsuit that sought to throw out a new state law banning its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was dismissed by a federal judge Monday.

The county plans to appeal the ruling, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said in a statement.

McHenry County filed the lawsuit along with Kankakee County following the signing of the Illinois Way Forward Act into law, arguing that the law is unconstitutional because it attempts to override federal law. Both counties also allege that the act improperly interferes with the federal government’s operations.

In his ruling dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Philip G. Reinhard said the state has the authority to determine whether it – or any of its political subdivisions, including counties – can enter into or remain in cooperative agreements like the one with ICE.

The law requires McHenry County to end its contract to house ICE and other federal detainees at the jail in Woodstock by Jan. 1, and even if the county successfully appeals Reinhard’s decision, Kenneally said it’s unlikely that would happen by the Jan. 1 deadline.

“We’re going to notify ICE that the contract is now void, and then they’re going to need to make other arrangements and transports, but that’s ultimately going to be their responsibility,” Kenneally said.

Attempts to reach ICE officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Transfers of detainees are one reason Kenneally and Sheriff Bill Prim said they said don’t think that the Illinois Way Forward Act, which they called an example of the General Assembly’s partisanship, will help ICE detainees.

“Most detainees held by ICE at the McHenry County Jail previously resided in Illinois, Wisconsin or northwest Indiana,” Prim and Kenneally said in a joint statement. “The termination of these contracts will not result in the release of detainees. Rather, they will merely be transferred to other ICE facilities as far away as Louisiana, with more crowding and with less favorable safety standards than the McHenry County Jail.”

The McHenry County Correctional Facility and the Michael J. Sullivan Judicial Center are seen on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Woodstock.

Opinion on ICE’s detention center in McHenry County has been divided, with some county officials saying it brings in needed revenue and some County Board members and local activists arguing that having such a center in the county creates fear in the area’s immigrant community. The McHenry County Board voted on March 18 to maintain the ICE agreement.

ICE pays McHenry County $95 a day for each person in the county’s custody.

The revenue McHenry County receives from ICE dropped from $9.7 million in 2018 to $8.7 million this year, the county’s chief financial officer Chief Financial Officer Kevin Bueso said at a September County Board meeting, as the number of detainees went down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The General Assembly, in the final day of session, rammed through a flawed, unconstitutional and overreaching bill for the sole purpose of making a political statement that it disagrees with existing federal immigration policy,” McHenry County Board chairman Mike Buehler said in a statement.

Others cheered the judge’s decision, such as Patrick Murfin, a member of the Coalition to Cancel the ICE Contract in McHenry County, who said the group’s research has shown that ICE’s contract doesn’t bring in as significant an income to the county as previously thought.

Murfin said the whole system of incarceration for immigration offenses is broken.

“The next step is to change the entire system on a federal level,” he said.

McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta, who has been vocal about his support for ending the contract, said he was happy to see the judge’s dismissal as closing the ICE detention center in McHenry County is something the “community has rallied around for over a year.

“This is a win for the county. This is a win for immigrants,” Acosta said.

Acosta’s concern now lies with the current detainees and what will happen to them.

“Now we’re on a very short timeline,” Acosta said.

Acosta said he’d like to see the release of non-violent detainees being housed at the McHenry County Jail.

Unlike Kankakee and McHenry counties, the only other county with an ICE detention center in Illinois, Pulaski, decided to end its contract with ICE. There, three of the estimated 50 people in ICE custody were released from Pulaski County Detention Center and the rest were to be transferred from the facility, according to reporting by The Southern Illinoisan.

Kenneally said the fact that the people are being detained in the first place means the federal government decided that it is appropriate to detain them.

“They don’t have to detain everybody who has immigration proceedings going on,” Keneally said. “So presumably, by virtue of the fact that those decisions already been made, all of the detainees are going to be transferred to other facilities.”