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Four Illinois sheriffs sue to strike down Illinois law allowing release of non-citizen felons

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Attorney General (6) , Corrections (74) , Crime (28) , Immigration (99a) , Police (28)

Four county sheriffs have sued the state of Illinois in federal court seeking to strike down a state law they said puts communities in danger.

The Illinois TRUST Act, enacted in 2017, was the reason given by the Illinois Department of Corrections when the Illinois Sheriffs' Association and several county sheriffs from around the state revealed the state’s prisons were no longer notifying local sheriffs about the release of felons who were not U.S. citizens upon completion of their sentence.

Last month, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said law enforcement officials were notified Jan. 30 by IDOC they had canceled pickups of non-citizens upon release from prisons. Downey said Kankakee contracted with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018 to facilitate the transfer of convicted felon non-citizens being released from Illinois prisons to ICE custody.

“In just 2019, the Kankakee County Sheriff's office assisted in 223 safe and secure transfers of felons who had been convicted of committing the following crimes in an Illinois community, and these were not mild transgressions,” he said last month.

But that’s not happening anymore.

“Under the Illinois Trust Act, the Illinois Department of Corrections is prohibited from detaining an individual solely on the basis of an immigration detainer or non-judicial immigration warrant," IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess said last month. "All incarcerated individuals are released at the expiration of their sentence. We continue to work with the Governor’s Office to review our policies and procedures to ensure the safety of Illinois residents and compliance with state law.”

On Monday in federal court, the sheriffs of McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson and Kankakee counties filed suit to strike down the law.

“The Trust Act has both the purpose and effect of obstructing federal immigration enforcement in Illinois,” the lawsuit claims. “[T]he Sheriffs respectfully request that the Court enter a declaratory judgment determining that the Trust Act is preempted by federal law.”

The lawsuit said sheriffs run jails and “[f]rom time-to-time, these jails house individuals who are undocumented aliens.”

“However, the Trust Act bars any law enforcement agency or official from detaining ‘any individual solely on the basis of any immigration detainer….’,” the sheriffs say. “According to the suit, the net result is the ‘Trust Act is in direct conflict with federal laws requiring cooperation and communication between federal and state law enforcement officials.’ All despite the fact that as the Arizona case decision declares: “Consultation between federal and state officials is an important feature of the immigration system.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois put out a joint statement with the National Immigrant Justice Center that criticized the lawsuit.

“Today’s lawsuit filed by four county sheriffs seeking to strike down the Illinois Trust Act is a thinly-veiled attempt to justify ongoing violations of the law,” the statement said. “Courts across the United States, including the Seventh Circuit and local federal district court, have held that ICE detainers are voluntary, such that laws like the TRUST Act create no conflict with federal law.”

“Law enforcement in Illinois cannot pick and choose which laws they follow and which they do not,” the ACLU statement said. “We encourage the Illinois Attorney General to vigorously oppose this lawsuit.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office said the TRUST Act does not violate the constitution.

"The TRUST Act reflects the values of Illinois residents and serves to build relationships between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities instead of spreading fear based on immigration status," spokesperson Annie Thompson said. "The Attorney General’s office maintains that the TRUST Act is constitutional."

The sheriffs said they face “irreparable harm in the face of ongoing litigation and threats of enforcement of the Trust Act” and that “enforcement of an unconstitutional law creates per se irreparable harm.”