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Immigration rights group opens new front in struggle with McLean County Sheriff

Thu, 05 Jul 2012 18:01:31 CDT
By: Charlie Schlenker

Immigration rights group opens new front in struggle with McLean County Sheriff An immigration activist group is expanding its attempt to put pressure on McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery over his policy of detaining undocumented immigrants for federal officials to take away to detention centers. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker has more.

Latinos United for Change is seeking an audience with the county's criminal justice coordinating council, a multi agency group that studies ways to improve the legal system. Sheriff Emery uses the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or ICE database to help identify jailed people. Once he starts the conversation with the feds Emery says he has no latitude in what happens next.

"ICE issues a detainer. it says in the law you shall hold that person in custody until ICE picks them up within 48 hours."

But, Jenn Carillo of Latinos United for Change says detention is voluntary, because otherwise the federal agency would unconstitutionally commandeer local resources.

"The mandate actually states... shall detain a person for no longer than 48 hours. And that's the only part that is written in shall."

Carillo says Emery could use other databases than ICE to identify inmates. Sheriff Emery says more than half of those on ICE detainers have inadequate or forged paperwork, some even more than one set. Emery says ICE has the best database to deal with that situation. He says he uses that resource on all people who don't have valid ID because to do otherwise would be discriminatory.

Latinos United for Change is unhappy that the Sheriff is holding people in jail on civil immigration charges, even though some would ordinarily be released rapidly on the criminal charge that resulted in the initial arrest.

The conversation is not going well. An apparent profound misunderstanding resulted in an L.U.C. demonstration at a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting. L.U.C. Group member Jose Montenegro said in a news conference before the meeting that they were promised a hearing of the issue at the coordinating council executive committee in May or June.

"That was also a lie."

But, Council Chair and Chief Circuit Judge Elizabeth Robb says organizer Sonny Garcia never followed through with the chair of the executive committee, Judge Robert Freitag.

"I was standing right there. He told him that if you want this placed on the agenda, you need to contact me."

That's not how Garcia says he understood it.

"He spoke to me directly after the meeting and gave me his card and said he was willing to talk about this anytime. I didn't understand that that meant I needed to call him before the executive committee discussed this."

Dozens of people showed up at the council meeting with signs in silent protest. Garcia says he will now be in touch with Judge Freitag. But, Judge Robb says the group is a voluntary partnership. Speaking only for herself and not the council, Robb says she believes it's not a good idea to use the council to criticize the way someone does their job.

"That would be the death knell for the criminal justice coordinating council. And it would further, poison the strong working relationships that have been developed."

L.U.C member Jose Montenegro argues, though, that the council's own bylaws contemplate such actions.

"The council will make recommendations, policy, and procedures changes that will affect the entire criminal justice system and that it will be the role of all council members to become agents of change."

Even if the Council studies the issue, it has no power to force an administrative change on Sheriff Emery. LUC activist Jenn Carillo says the group might also seek redress through the County Board Justice Committee. Justice Committee Chair Bette Rackauskas says that panel controls only the Sheriff's budget, not his administrative policies. Rackauskas says she would be happy to meet with L.U.C.
The group says the Sheriff's Department has held more than 200 people in the last 14 months who have been taken away by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. A big chunk of those, Emery says, were initially arrested by Bloomington or Normal Police. All were initially taken into custody on state charges. Bob Sutherland, who sits on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council says even the perception of a problem creates a real problem for law enforcement through a climate of fear.

"Such that they would perhaps not feel free to come forward and testify in criminal trials, or call the police if there is domestic violence or something like that for fear of other consequences that might come to the police being on the scene. If that is actually happening, then it means the entire criminal justice system is being impacted."

Sutherland says there has to be trust of law enforcement in a healthy community. Emery acknowledges the immigration issue is a difficult one. He says resolution of it should come from Congress. L.U.C. says Emery could also make the local situation better.


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