Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cook County Board makes immigration statement they’ve already made

The Cook County Board this week is likely to take an action that I’m sure the conservative ideologues of our society will lambast as a federal offense, if not treasonous and downright “un-American.”
GARCIA: Making national news?

Actually, it’s more a symbolic gesture. But leave it to the overly partisan among us to exaggerate the significance of something.

THE ISSUE AT stake here is immigration reform. And for what it’s worth, the county board back in 2010 approved a resolution stating that it officially supports the concept of comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration laws, and also has passed vague measures saying the county wouldn’t do business with Arizona companies because of that state’s hostile laws on this particular issue.

The action likely to be taken when the county board meets on Wednesday merely reinforces the fact that the Democrat-led government body supports the idea that treating people from other countries whose papers aren’t in line as vicious criminals is just absurd.

So I personally don’t think this gesture is really worth much attention, although the reports being disseminated in anticipation of the county board’s likely vote would have you think that Cook County is “taking center stage” in the ongoing debate over immigration reform.

The measure in question is being sponsored by county Commissioner Jesus Garcia (one of two Latino members of the 17-member county board), and it says that the county sheriff should refuse to hold people in the Cook County Jail just because federal immigration officials have issued a “detainer.”

WHAT HAPPENS IS that if someone gets arrested in the county and there becomes reason to suspect that their immigration status is suspicious, a federal detainer is issued.

That detainer means that the person gets held at the county jail even if they are capable of posting bond for their charge – or even if their charge gets dismissed or otherwise resolved.

It means that county jail officials get roped into the business of holding onto immigration cases until the officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are able to get around to resolving those cases.

In some cases, the county incarceration for people who have no pending criminal charge against them is significant.

CONSIDERING THAT IT’S only the ideologues who want to view these people as criminals, it puts the county into having to take up the “wrong side” of the debate on this particular issue.

Garcia’s resolution does include a clause saying that the county jail should only hold these immigration cases if the U.S. government provides the county with a written agreement by which it will reimburse Cook County for all costs of incarceration.

Immigration officials have said they have no intention of reimbursing Cook County because they don’t reimburse any local jurisdiction for the costs caused by immigration detainers. I’m sure they want to view this issue as a courtesy extended by one law enforcement agency to another, and that Cook County officials are off on some sort of diatribe.

What it really is about is making sure people understand that the government officials in Chicago are sympathetic to the people who live here, particularly since it is a city where even the so-called white people are strongly aware of their ethnic origins.

MEANING THAT THE county board’s opposition to being involved in this issue has nothing to do with money. I suspect that even if the federal government were to offer to “pay up” for incarceration costs, the officials who vote against this idea when it comes up this week would still be opposed to the general concept.

As for those who are going to say that this issue is going to cause a lengthy court battle, you’d already be correct.

For the National Immigrant Justice Center already has filed a lawsuit that claims detainers are an un-Constitutional concept. It is pending in the U.S. District Court for Chicago and northern Illinois, and is based on the idea that someone who does not have a pending local criminal charge against them should not be held in a local jail.

Consider it the equivalent of the county telling the federal government, “Do your own dirty work” when it comes to detaining people and holding them while their status is resolved.

PERHAPS IF FEDERAL ICE officials had to be responsible for full incarceration for everybody they take an interest in, then they’d seriously try to find only those people without papers who pose a serious threat to our society – instead of engaging in mass raids that try to pick up as many people as possible (almost like a ballplayer trying to boost his batting average at the end of the season to try to get a contractual bonus).

I have a hard time getting that excited about this particular action because, like I wrote earlier, this is more of a symbolic gesture. This particular measure already has nine sponsors, including the county board president herself.

There will probably be heated debate, and at least a couple of angry suburban types on the county board who decide to vote against this measure just to be ornery.

But anyone who thinks that Toni Preckwinkle and the county board majority is significantly changing its thought process by approving this measure is seriously missing the point.


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