McHenry County Jail empty of ICE detainees as contract terms expire this week

Alejandro Ortiz, speaks about his experience being detained at McHenry County Jail during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Chicago.

By one version, a father of five was taken in September 2019 while his older children were at school and his little ones were home napping. He was held in a cell, separated from his fiancée and kids for almost two years and returned home in June last year.

The U.S. immigration system has another version. In that one, the agency had full authority to arrest Cesar Mauricio Elizarraraz of Crystal Lake and keep him detained at the McHenry County Jail because he was a person living here without the proper immigration status.

As McHenry County cleaned out its jail of federal immigration detainees, activists such as Elizarraraz, now 42, pushed for those detainees to be released back into the community and not transferred to other U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.

“It was horrible being away from my family,” he said.

Elizarraraz has been helping organizations such as the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights show that legislation such as the Illinois Forward Act is a more humane way to work with immigrants.

Kristin Glauner-Elizarraraz, third from left, and Cesar Mauricio Elizarraraz, fourth from left, at their September 2021 wedding in their backyard with their five children.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Illinois Way Forward Act last year. It ended immigrant detention in the state beginning this year.

For McHenry County, the legislation means the county’s contract with the federal government needed to end. It did Jan. 13, when the county gave 30 days’ notice to ICE to remove its detainees from the jail.

As of Feb. 1, 25 detainees remained at the jail, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office said. By Feb. 5, the last detainee was gone.

In a lawsuit filed in September, McHenry and Kankakee counties argued that the Illinois Way Forward Act violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from interfering with the federal government’s exercise of its constitutional powers, and interferes with the federal government’s ability to do its work.

The county is waiting for the outcome of the pending appeal to determine its options, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office said.

An ICE official confirmed it no longer has any detainees at the jail but would not say how many detainees were released and how many were transferred to other facilities.

An inmate waves as activists held a candlelight march to the front of the McHenry County Correctional Facility the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

David Faherty, detention project supervising attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, worked to submit release requests for many of the detainees at the jail alongside other immigrant rights organizations.

He said about half of the detainees were released to their families in different parts of the state and the other half were transferred to locations in Indiana, Wisconsin and outside the Midwest.

While the releases are a relief to the detainees’ families, Faherty said, the fight for them isn’t over. Their individual immigration cases remain ongoing.

The Illinois Way Forward Act also is an example other states could follow, Faherty said.

“The bigger picture isn’t just about Illinois,” he said. “Outside of that, Illinois can lead the way for how ICE can operate across the nation.”

Immigrants can continue to live in their communities, work at their jobs and volunteer at their children’s schools while navigating their status cases, Faherty said.

“There is an alternative to detention programs,” he said.

Protesters hold up signs the morning of Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, during a rally aimed at persuading the McHenry County Board to cancel its contract with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to detain immigrants in the McHenry County Jail. About 25 to 30 people protested outside the facility at 2200 N. Seminary Ave. in Woodstock.

But he questions the drive to keep the detention contracts with counties. He said he thinks money is a factor.

According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, both counties had collected millions of dollars annually from the federal government for detaining immigrants in ICE custody.

McHenry County was paid a rate of $95 per detainee per day by the federal government, which went into the county’s general fund, county spokeswoman Alicia Schueller said.

The county was expected to receive $368,000 from the federal government for holding 125 detainees in December, county Chief Financial Officer Kevin Bueso told the County Board during its budgeting process in the fall.

McHenry County received $9.7 million in 2018, but the revenue dropped in recent years, Bueso said. The county planned on receiving $8.7 million during the 2020-21 budget year.

In the county’s pending lawsuit, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally argued that the loss of revenue from the contract will hurt residents countywide in the form of diminished services or potential tax increases in future years.

Angela Osorio, 40, with Organized Communities Against Deportations speaks of her experience at the McHenry County jail as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee at a news conference in Chicago Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.

Kenneally and County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, also had criticized the Illinois Way Forward Act, with Buehler calling it “an unconstitutional and poorly thought out law that was hastily thrown together by the General Assembly to make a political statement regarding current federal immigration enforcement.”

“The forced termination of the contract will not mean that ICE will be releasing its detainees from the county jail; they will be relocated to facilities in other states, which will force families of detainees to travel much farther to visit while their loved ones await their hearings,” the county said in a statement in December.

County officials said they’re waiting to see the outcome of the pending appeal to determine their options for how that revenue will be replaced.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that David Faherty, detention project supervising attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, was referring to individual immigration cases when saying the fight isn’t over.

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