Debate continues over proposed county ICE center

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD – Mayor Tom McNamara is not alone in his opposition to using part of the Winnebago County Jail to house federal immigration detainees.

One of his recent opponents has now spoken out against the proposal.

Community activist Rudy Valdez, who ran for Rockford mayor as an independent, said aside from sending a negative message to minorities, a  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Rockford will come with hidden costs that could further add to an already gaping county budget hole.

“The moral issues,” Valdez said in a letter to The Times, “unfortunately, get a lower priority when money is involved according to a few elected officials.”

Sheriff Gary Caruana said last week that using two empty pods in the jail to house as many as 128 federal immigration detainees could result in a profit for the county of more than $3 million, an estimate after expenses. That revenue would be largely generated by the $80 per day the sheriff’s department receives to house other federal inmates under an existing agreement with the United States Marshals Service.

According to Jail Superintendent Bob Redmond, it costs the county about $17 per day to house an inmate, which would leave $63 per detainee under a partnership with ICE.

Valdez disagrees with those figures, and said unknown costs would tell a different story.

“Shortly after Sheriff Caruana was elected, an RRStar interview with retiring Sheriff Meyers provided insight into the jail population and the daily cost to house an inmate, which was reported as $70 per day,” Valdez wrote. “There are many unknown costs that are blended in the daily cost per inmate. Medical, mental illness, and other factors drive up the cost for some. Detainees tend to be in the higher cost category.”

Valdez said if it costs $17 per day, housing 850 inmates would cost $5,274,250 per year. At $70 per day, it would cost $21,717,500.

“The federal government may be inefficient, but it would not pay $80 per day if the cost was only $17 per day.”

Caruana said $17 is correct.

“In fact, that’s even a high estimate,” he said.

The sheriff said there are other costs, almost all being fixed expenses the county is already paying.. Medical care, for example, is provided through an existing contract and utilities are paid regardless of how many inmates are in the jail.

Sliding costs of housing a single inmate are tied to largely to food, sundries, clothing and bedding that can be used multiple times.

Valdez said the sheriff’s numbers are based on the assumption that the empty pods will be full, and that they revenue would cover salaries of 25 additional officers he must hire per a grievance filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

“The sheriff has suggested using 128 beds, which could produce $3.7 million,” Valdez said. “This would appear to easily cover the cost of the 25 correction officers. However, there are two key factors that artificially inflate the number. One is the assumption of 100 percent use of the 128 beds at 365 days a year. A revenue of $80 per day and a cost of $70 per day produces a net revenue per detainee of $10 per day.”

Based on those numbers and an average jail capacity of 61 percent, Valdez said the county would profit around $467,200, not the more than $3 million tied to the projection that all 128 beds would be filled.

Valdez, along with McNamara and Winnebago County State’ Joe Bruscato, who both have cited the potentially negative impact the detention center could have on the community, said the move would come with fear, increased crime and mistrust of law enforcement.

Caruana said federal detainees would come from border states, where they are being held in tents and trailers. None would be rounded up locally because local law enforcement does not do immigration sweeps and would not start under the new proposal.

However, undocumented immigrants are sometimes held by order of a felony judicial warrant. If they are not taken into custody by ICE within 48 hours, they must be released. In the last three years, there have been 41 people processed on ICE holds.

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