Commissioners Divided on Detainer Ordinance

County Commissioners on Wednesday agreed to take a second look at a controversial decision last fall to defy so-called federal "detainers" on illegal immigrants held in the County Jail.

Once those detainers are placed on inmates, local authorities are supposed to notify immigration if they have bonded out, so they can be picked up by federal agents for deportation proceedings.

Cook County’s commissioners voted last September to ignore the detainers, resulting in hundreds of illegal immigrants released back into the community, instead of into federal custody.

"It’s only a matter of time before we see a number of people that will flee justice, but even worse, commit another crime," said Commissioner Tim Schneider.

Schneider advocates an amendment to the ordinance, which would permit the Cook County Sheriff to notify immigration when suspects accused of certain felonies are due to be released on bond.

"We’re letting felons out on the street," said commissioner Elizabeth Gorman. "We’ve let out aggravated DUI offenders, third offenses, we’ve let out aggravated vehicular hijacking. With firearms."

The issue came to a head when it was revealed that an accused hit-and-run driver had bonded out of the jail and disappeared. It is believed he fled to his native Mexico.

But some commissioners advised caution.

"I think we need to think about what we stand for here," said Commissioner Joan Murphy. "Everyone is supposed to be treated fairly."

Her colleague, John Daley, said the real issue should be who gets bonded, regardless of their immigration status.

"Every day we read about individuals who are let out on early parole, who have committed violent acts in our community," he said.

Immigration authorities have warned the county that they may be violating federal law.

Board members voted Wednesday to hold a hearing on proposed changes in the county’s procedures. Jesus Garcia, sponsor of the original ordinance, urged caution.

"This ordinance ought to be kept in place because it insures the equal treatment of everyone,” Garcia said. "Because people are innocent until proven guilty."

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