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Cook County, Illinois Circumvents Secure Communities and Protects Its Residents

Mike Corradini, JD on September 14, 2011

Since its inception, the Secure Communities program has co-opted state and local law enforcement agencies to detain and deport tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for (but often not convicted of) traffic violations and other petty offenses. While the stated goal of this program – ensuring that violent criminals are removed from the US – is laudable, many states and localities have attempted to opt out of the program since it became clear that the overwhelming majority of immigrants who are apprehended by the program are guilty only of being in the US without permission. Additionally, concerns have been raised  that implementation of Secure Communities significantly undermines cooperation between police and immigrant communities and can lead to under-reporting of crimes, thereby impacting both citizen and non-citizens alike. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for its administration, has made it clear that the program is mandatory – and that local law enforcement will have to continue to participate in a deeply flawed program that destroys families and communities while undermining the public trust in local law enforcement.

As legal challenges to Secure Communities make their way through courts across the country, Cook County, Illinois has found a bold and creative way around this destructive program. Last week, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to stop complying with ICE requests to hold immigrants convicted of misdemeanors and traffic violations. These requests, known as “detainers,” ask local jurisdictions to hold immigrants wanted by ICE for up to 48 hours so that ICE can detain them and begin deportation proceedings. The monetary cost of these detainers is borne completely by the state or local jurisdiction in Cook County alone, complying with ICE detainers costs the county approximately $15 million each year. The cost in terms of community trust in local law enforcement, to say nothing of family and community cohesion, is immeasurable.

Cook County’s courageous stand against this destructive program sets an example for every other jurisdiction that has tried to opt out of Secure Communities. By continuing to comply with ICE requests to hold felons (but declining to hold misdemeanor and traffic violators), Cook County continues to serve Secure Communities’ goal of removing the most dangerous offenders from the country, but also shows that ICE’s overbroad administration of the program is completely unnecessary to achieve its goals. And by taking a common-sense approach to protecting its residents and communities, Cook County is an inspiring example for like-minded localities across the country.  

Places: United States