A sea change is coming in the way Illinois law enforcement works with federal immigration forces. In August, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signed into law, the Illinois Way Forward Act. Among the changes are stronger protections for immigrants and an effective discontinuation of federal detention centers in Illinois by 2022. The law also prohibits state and local governments from signing contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants.
“There are long term lawful permanent residents who…were picked up by immigration at home, arrested on their way to work and detained, as well as recently arrived asylum seekers, many individuals who are an integral part of the community and have U.S. citizen children and spouses,” says Diana Rashid, a managing attorney working with the National Immigrant Justice Center detention project. “This bill is intended to address the fact that they should no longer be detained here in Illinois, that these counties should not profit from ongoing detention in this … very unjust system.”
To date, one of three of the detention centers in Illinois has been closed, the Pulaski County Jail about 400 miles south of Chicago. But closing that center did not necessarily result in detainees being released, said Karina Donayre, director of communications at the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.
“What we have seen recently with the closure of the Pulaski County jail was that most people were actually transferred … to Kankakee, McHenry within Illinois, but also some were transferred outside of the states,” said Donayre.
ICDI has set up a volunteer-staffed program to assist immigrants called Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance near the Greyhound bus station in downtown Chicago.
“We see generally two populations, those who are coming to our southern border and are traveling across the country on a bus to their final destination ... We also see populations of people who [were] detained in an ICE immigration detention center…they have been released and it is the policy of ICE to release these people at a transportation hub,” said Donayre. “We offer them any basic need items such as food, water, clothing and even hygienic items. And we assist them to get to their final destination, whether that is buying their bus tickets or even giving them a phone and a SIM card to be able to contact their families and sponsors.”
Donayre says that with the reinforcement of the Biden administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy, her organization has seen a shift in the number of immigrants arriving in Chicago.
“We know that people are still looking to seek asylum and they are still wanting to come here, but we’ve see the numbers decrease,” said Donayre. “But that does not mean that people are not there, right? It does not mean that the problem has gone away. It does not mean that there is no one coming through. It means that the policy has changed.”
Rashid says that although some municipalities are fighting portions of the new law, immigration advocates welcome the change in enforcement approaches.
“The most important portion of the law for our purposes is really ending those contractual obligations between the counties and ICE so that individuals are no longer going to be detained in Illinois and immigration custody,” said Rashid. “There are protections so that counties no longer are cooperating, are no longer holding non-citizen immigrants to be turned over to ICE. And that communication aspect is prohibited as much as it can be under the law.”