Demands from a Hispanic support group that the McLean County (Ill.) Criminal Justice Coordinating Council intervene in the group's dispute with Sheriff Mike Emery on immigration issues were rebuffed on Thursday.
Eleventh Circuit Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb said such intervention would be "a death knell" for the council that was founded two years ago to address jail overcrowding.
For more than a year, Latinos United for Change has protested a policy at the McLean County jail that requires staff to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on all arrestees born outside the United States. Most of the cases result from traffic stops made by local law enforcement.
Emery has defended the policy, implemented last year, as a way for jail staff to meet the requirement to verify a person's identity before release and to remove possible discrimination complaints that could be lodged if ICE checks were not made on all people born outside the country.
In a news conference outside the County Board room ahead of the coordinating council meeting, LUC spokesman Jose Montenegro questioned whether the council's executive committee had followed through with its pledge to consider the issue.
In a lengthy statement delivered at the end of the agenda to the crowd of about 60 protesters, Robb said it's her view that the immigration debate does not belong at the council table. Such a discourse to "publicly criticize an elected official on how he does his job could be a death knell for the CJCC and poison the strong working relationship" that exists between those who work in the criminal justice system.
The failure of LUC organizer Sonny Garcia to meet with Judge Robert Frietag after the two spoke in April also delayed the issue coming to the executive committee, said Robb.
The cordial dialogue turned chilly after LUC member Jenn Carrillo stood up and criticized the council for not allowing the group to speak. Council members ignored her demands and filed out of the room.
In comments to The Pantagraph, Emery said the LUC is trying to force the local council to address a federal issue.
"The LUC has been told many times that the proper venue for their concerns is Washington, D.C., where federal immigration law is determined. They continue to refuse that advice and expend their energy on the county level," said Emery.
Robb said a council representative still is willing to meet with Garcia, an invitation he said he will accept.
The coordinating council has brought more than two dozens criminal justice leaders together and reduced a $700,000 expense for housing prisoners outside the county down to $1,300 for such housing last year.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff attended a recent public meeting on immigration sponsored by the LUC and said they agreed with Emery's opinion that federal requests to hold an individual are not optional.
"It's like a request for apprehension from another agency. Once you confirm that request, it's binding," said Bleichner.
The Normal chief thinks the checks are applied fairly.
"It seems to me if the jail is doing checks on everyone, that's a non-discriminatory way to address the issue," said Bleichner.
A snapshot of the current list of McLean County jail inmates being held on federal immigration detainers includes a list of several serious criminal offenses -- including felony sex and drug charges.
According to Sheriff Mike Emery, the six inmates are not reflective of the claims made by Latinos United for Change that accuse police of bringing immigrants into the jail on low-level traffic offenses. The group has complained the jail policy of contacting Immigrant and Customs Enforcement leads to individuals being traumatized and taken into federal custody for hearings outside McLean County.
Data provided to The Pantagraph by Emery indicates that since the county started collecting detainer statistics in July 2011, ICE has issued 147 holds for jail inmates. The county holds the inmates up to 48 hours to allow ICE to pick them up.
On Thursday, the list of ICE holds included: Korean-born Misook Nowlin, held since September on murder charges; Heracio Perez-Serna, born in Mexico and held on drug charges; Agustin Garcia, originally from Mexico, held on aggravated criminal sex abuse allegations; Luis Antonio Aguirre, born in Guatemela, held on criminal sexual assault charges; Azat Odkhuu, born in Macedonia and being held on drunken driving charges; and Reynaldo Zavala-Hernandez, born in Mexico, also detained on DUI charges.
While about 60 percent of those held on the first 120 detainers tracked by the county involved a traffic offense, the review of recent ICE detainers contradicts LUC claims, said Emery.
The snapshot "shows that offenses far more serious than traffic tickets are involved. The reason these individuals continue to be in our custody is not related to the ICE detainer -- they are pre-trial detainees on state charges," said Emery.
LUC organizer Sonny Garcia said Thursday that the group has no problem with serious offenders being detained. "Our problem is with the traffic offenses and cases where no charge is ever filed," said Garcia.
The federal agency does not tell the county why a hold is issued for an individual. In many cases, the arrestee has multiple aliases and birth dates that must be sorted out, according to court records.
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