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Sheriffs’ Lawsuit Blasts the Pro-Immigrant Illinois Trust Act

— March 11, 2020

The sheriffs say they’ve been forced into a conundrum: by upholding the Illinois Trust Act, they may be violating federal law.

Four sheriffs seeking to prevent the Illinois Trust Act from taking effect have sued the state’s attorney general, Kwame Raoul.

The Illinois Trust Act, writes The Chicago Tribune, prohibits state-level law enforcement from detaining and holding people on the sole basis of their immigration status. The sole exception, says the Tribune, would be when sheriffs or city-level officials receive a court-ordered warrant.

Furthermore, the act makes it unlawful for Illinois cops to fulfill detention requests—often referred to as “detainers”—ordered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The only way a retainer could be fulfilled is if it’s backed by accompanying charges. In that way, the Illinois Trust Act still allows dangerous migrants to be arrested, held and deported. But it effectively prevents law enforcement from acting at the behest of ICE, which has increasingly targeted undocumented immigrants lacking significant civil or criminal histories beyond unlawful entry into the United States.

The lawsuit, adds the Chicago Tribune, was filed on behalf of McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, and Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders.

Similar to another lawsuit filed by a county clerk in New York state, the sheriffs say enforcing the Trust Act exposes them to litigation: three of the four sheriffs say they’ve already sued for allegedly violating the law.

In their complaint, they maintain that the federal government has overarching authority “to regulate matters pertaining to immigration and the status of aliens.” With Illinois requiring local law enforcement to comply with the Trust Act, the sheriffs say they’re unable to meet obligations to federal statute and policy.

“Public safety is constantly being compromised,” VanVickle said in a statement. “We cannot operate using two opposing systems at the same time and keep our communities safe. We believe that clear direction from the courts will resolve these contradictions.”

Trump Tower in Chicago, IL. Since President Trump took office in early 2017, ICE has been increasingly targeting undocumented immigrants with no significant criminal history. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

Most of the conflict detailed in the suit, says the Tribune, centers on detainers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainer” requests mandate that local law enforcement keep custody of a suspect for 48 hours prior to release, allowing the agency to check whether an individual is in the United States unlawfully.

Following a request for a detainer, ICE can ask that local officials remand a migrant into federal custody.

Fred Taso, senior policy council for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, told the Chicago Tribune he doesn’t believe there’s any conflict between the Trust Act, the U.S. Constitution and federal law. In fact, Taso told the Tribune that the act allows law enforcement to better uphold constitutional principles by refusing to detain individuals who are not suspected of having committed a crime or are no longer suspected of having committed a crime.

“The Trust Act sets a clear standard for local law enforcement to guard against violations of the Constitution,” Taso said.

The Tribune notes that the American Civil Liberties Union was responsible for suing three of the four sheriffs now challenging the legality of the Trust Act. In one instance, recalls the ACLU, the McHenry County sheriff had “illegally” detained a migrant based on their immigration status.

That suit, however, was later dropped.

The two other complaints—filed against the Ogle and Stephenson county sheriffs—alleged that the sheriffs stopped and arrested men for minor traffic offenses. Each sheriff’s office then continued to hold suspects, even after they’d posted bond, until federal immigration officials were able to take them into custody.

Speaking in support of the ACLU in a press release issued late last fall, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton emphatically said that law enforcement in the state is beholden to Springfield, not Washington, D.C.

“The police in Illinois do not work for ICE,” Cullerton said. “People should not be detained because of how they look, what they believe in or what paperwork they may or may not have.”


Sheriffs sue to block Illinois Trust Act, which prevents them from holding immigrant prisoners without a court warrant

Two local sheriffs are among four plaintiffs in a newly filed lawsuit

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