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The Cook County Board of Commissioners recently passed an immigrant rights ordinance last September 7 with a ten to five vote. The ordinance aims to free suspected undocumented aliens incarcerated throughout the county for misdemeanor offenses. This blanket release goes against the grain of holding immigrants as requested by the federal authorities.

The ordinance also requires the federal government to pay back Cook County for expenses incurred for holding undocumented aliens that would be subject to immigration review. Without the reimbursement, the county would not honor these requests to hold. Furthermore, immigration officials are prohibited to have access aliens detained by the county without a criminal warrant. The said ordinance is to be made effective immediately.

The reason for such decision is the cost of holding these individuals for federal authorities amounting to $15 million per year or around $143 per day per detainee. With a shortfall of $300 million, it is a cost cutting move rather than an immigration move. Undocumented immigrants are often held for several days until federal authorities interview them even for minor offenses such as traffic violations and disorderly conduct.

According to County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, “In America, we don’t detain people without probable cause. That would violate constitutional guarantees like due process and equal protection. But these detainers are not based on probable cause and they have been imposed on U.S. citizens, including veterans, by mistake.”

Another cause for the ordinance is the recent federal ruling in Indiana that determined Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers as voluntary requests and not criminal warrants. The county is protecting itself with the ordinance, as there are possible ramifications such as lawsuits and other damages for claims of wrongful arrest, deportation, detention or injuries or even possible death when held in their custody.