By John Guevara
After Juan Juarez’s father was murdered in the hills of Jalisco, Mexico, his mother told him he should flee to the United States. Juan walked across the border and traveled to Chicago. His cousin, Luis, had a job lined up for him. Eventually, Juan left Chicago to work on the railroad in Savanna.
His daughter, Susan Guevara of Rockford, explained her father’s loyalty to illegal immigrants. “Hispanics are very loyal to Hispanics, and educated or not, they side with illegal immigrants.”
Had Juan walked across the border today, he would be in danger of being arrested and detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility similar to the one discussed with such intensity in Winnebago County over the past few months.
The county’s process of evaluating and ultimately declining the detention center serves as an example of how local government should make good decisions involving three points from our Contract with the Community: Transform government processes, Safer streets, and finding a Reasonable tax burden.
Caruana was clear from the start: Any decision on an ICE detention center would be had in the light of day. Back room politics were never an option.
“This is how we need to work through stuff as a community,” said Caruana. “If we’re going to get to become a top tier community by 2025 we need practice good government listen to the community, weigh out all the facts, and come to a decision.”
County Board Chairman Frank Haney was also clear about the need for an open, transparent process. “A public process can be messy, especially when there are hot-button issues being discussed. But it sure beats the alternative of doing business in the dark. I also think it was critical that we didn’t rush the process. Time was needed to do due diligence at the professional staff level while also being open to public input at the same time.”
Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney speaks at a public gathering downtown last week following the announcement that the county would not pursue a proposed immigration detention facility in its jail. Photo, Jon McGinty
The county is facing a significant deficit. Instead of looking to raise property or sales taxes, the sheriff investigated opportunities to avoid punishing Winnebago County taxpayers with property or sales tax increases.
Some questioned the integrity of the sheriff’s dollar and population estimates. It is important to make sure we are working with apples-to-apples comparisons. For example, any comparison should have been made to other ICE detention centers instead of to the county’s jail population, if only because the jail population has been steadily rising since 2014.
County board member Dan Fellars said, “ Recent actions by the sheriff and county administration as it relates to the ICE detention facility show that we are making progress toward the county’s commitment to being transparent and accountable to taxpayers.”
The greater challenge for many county board members will be balancing the budget without raising property or sales taxes.
One of the most specific and telling comments made during the first forum on the ICE detention center was about the detainees in McHenry County’s ICE facility: “These people are not part of our community.”
Even with a comparison indicating that future detainees would probably be felons, Sheriff Caruana and Chairman Haney decided any agreement with ICE should guarantee that a Winnebago County facility would only hold “mid- to high-level felons.”
This is an important aspect to consider. Immigration and open borders advocates routinely trumpet that every immigrant’s intent is to work. It is essential that both sides of the immigration divide agree, those immigrants who come here illegally and choose to commit violent crimes or aggressive misdemeanors deserve to be deported.
Several opponents to the ICE detention center are on record claiming the facility would “undo” the work our region has done to build trust in the Latino community. Now that the facility has been rejected by the sheriff, there is no excuse for full cooperation between Latinos and law enforcement, especially when it comes to gang-related crime, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
In the aftermath of the debate, board member Eli Nicolosi is hopeful for our area to win the war in crime. “What impressed me in this process overall is that I truly believe both sides were able to get a sense of where the other was coming from,” said Nicolosi, “a rarity in this day and age. There was respect given from both sides of the issue and it goes to show that as a community we have taken a step forward. Hopefully, we can capitalize on this momentum and figure out some new solutions for public safety.”
The current situation is not unlike that of South Florida in the early 1980s. Fidel Castro released thousands of hardened criminals among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled Cuba in 1980. Innocent, hardworking immigrants sought to distance themselves from the reputation of those who served as the inspiration for the movie Scarface.
The same holds true today. There should be zero tolerance for illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes. Anything less does a disservice to those, like Juan Juarez, who come to this country to work hard and provide for their family.
Caruana made the right decision the right way by choosing to reject an ICE detention center. He and Haney transformed the process by conducting an open and transparent discussion. They sought to ensure a reasonable tax burden by considering me the proposal. And the decision was made while keeping the goal of safer streets in mind.
Now it falls to the citizens of this community to help Caruana and Winnebago County win the war on crime. R.
The Contract with the Community is our 10-point plan to ensure a better government for the citizens of our community. Read the complete series here.