More than 100 criminal suspects have been released back into the community without notifications to immigration officials since Cook County Board voted last fall to defy federal orders.
There is a renewed outcry for the county to resume cooperation with federal immigration authorities after a hit and run suspect vanished shortly after his release from Cook County Jail.
Last June, 35-year-old Saul Chavez was accused in the hit-and-run death of a 66-year-old insurance broker who was struck and killed in the 3700 block of North Kedzie.
Witnesses said Chavez fled the scene of the accident on foot after striking the victim, William McCann, running him over and dragging him approximately 150 feet.
The federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a detainer on Chavez, through which they should have been notified if he was released on bond. Under previous procedure, federal agents would have then picked him up from the jail and placed him in federal custody while deportation proceedings commenced.
But last fall, the county board voted to defy those detainers. The sheriff’s office was ordered to provide no such notifications to ICE, and since that time more than 100 criminal suspects have been released back into the community without notifying federal agents of their whereabouts.
"It’s lucky that we haven’t had someone injured or killed," said County Commissioner Tim Schneider, one of the few commissioners who opposed the change in the law last September. "We don’t choose which laws in this country we uphold, and which laws we ignore."
Indeed, McCann’s family has joined the call for the law to be changed. The victim’s brother, Brian McCann, said it’s likely Chavez fled to Mexico and will never be brought back to Cook County for trial.
"The other way to seek justice is to correct a wrong," McCann says. "And this ordinance is wrong."
Schneider said he will introduce an amendment to the ordinance, backed by Sheriff Tom Dart, which would require notifications to ICE for forcible felonies, those with previous convictions, and those on the terrorism watch list.
Commissioner Jesus Garcia staunchly defends the law he put on the books last September, insisting the detainer-ignoring policy is not to blame for Chavez’ disappearance, and that critics should look to the courts, which set his bond at only $250,000.
"It’s the judge’s decision, which could have led to a higher bond, which may have insured that he would not get out from jail," said Garcia.
Indeed, questions have been raised about why Chavez’ bond was not higher, given the fact that he had a prior DUI conviction from 2008.
William McCann noted that if a detainer would have been placed on Chavez at that time, before the change in the county’s immigration policy, it’s likely deportation proceedings would have commenced long before the accident which claimed his brother’s life.
"The very simple conclusion my family has reached, is had he been deported, my brother would be alive," he said.