By Don Bissell
It might have seemed good at first glance – county and city leaders with budgets so tight that they squeak are diligently looking for ways to bring in new money from outside sources or save dollars on existing programs. We applaud those efforts.
Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a function of the federal government, is apparently running short of space to detain people awaiting immigration court decisions. ICE has reached out to Sheriff Gary Caruana about renting unused space in our county jail. The sheriff quickly multiplied the number of cells in two jail pods by a dollar figure offered by ICE and came up with a number that got his attention.
But as we begin to learn the “rest of the story”, a myriad of unintended consequences emerge.
A major sticking point is that citizens of Rockford have just spent millions of dollars implementing community policing – aimed at collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and individuals they serve to increase trust in police and thereby increase public safety. Nabbing and jailing people for civil infractions unravels all that hard work and good will — and makes us less safe.
When you are listening to discussion(s) surrounding this topic, be wary of the rhetoric. Proponents may say that we will be “hosting criminals”, both of those words are inaccurate. We are not providing hotel rooms, we would be locking people in jail cells made of acres of beige concrete and decidedly cold stainless steel. And some people who would be jailed are seeking political asylum – they come from places and brutal governments they cannot trust. The last thing we should be doing is participating in a cycle of distrust and be labeled as the Winnebago internment camp. Let’s be clear, the last time we committed people to internment camps was during WWII. It wasn’t justified then and it is not justified now.
The logistics of moving detainees to and from court are significant and unnecessary. Sure, ICE is responsible to deliver them to Winnebago County and pick them up. But there are no immigration judges here; those courts are in Cook and McHenry Counties. So, detainees will be bused back and forth at a cost of transportation, personnel, administration and more. That is government in its least efficient form. And while people are here, they’re our responsibility – not just lodging but their food and medical needs are on our tab.
So, here’s the bottom line. ICE arrests people with no criminal history and does it without a criminal warrant. Immigration violations are civil offenses – like jaywalking and parking tickets. Last time we checked, imprisoning human beings for profit was not on the list of shared values to make us a top 25 city by 2025. Motivations fail on every level – economic, practical and moral. Reject it.