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Cook County Immigration Detention: Janet Napolitano Calls County Policy 'Misguided'

Posted: 04/26/2012 11:46 am Updated: 04/26/2012 11:46 am

During a Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was grilled by a duo of Republican senators on immigration enforcement in Cook County.

Senators John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) previously signed on to a letter sent earlier this year to Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder that implored them to cut off some federal funding to Cook County over its controversial stance toward immigration detention.

Since last fall, the county has refused to adhere to detainer requests and hold undocumented arrestees for an additional 48 hours after they have posted bond -- despite the fact that they are being targeted by the federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"Cook County is simply not abiding by federal law in detaining officials who have criminal records," Kyl told Napolitano, according to NBC Chicago.

Sessions added that he considered the county's stance toward detainers "unacceptable" and urged that Napolitano intervene in the matter. Napolitano agreed that the county's policy is "misguided," according to NBC.

Though Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle initially claimed the county's financial problems were behind their decision to ignore the ICE mandate, she changed her tune after ICE offered to pick up the tab for jailing undocumented arrestees. In a letter to federal officials, Preckwinkle argued that it seemed "offensive and unjust … to make distinctions between people based on their documentation."

"Equal justice before the law is more important to me than the budgetary consideration," Preckwinkle continued, according to the Chicago Tribune.

While immigration activists have been pleased with the county's stance, Preckwinkle has been criticized by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Illinois lawmakers and one victim's family.

Saul Chavez was one undocumented immigrant released under Preckwinkle's new rule. Chavez is believed to have fled the country after posting bond on vehicular homicide and DUI charges. The family of William "Dennis" McCann -- the man Chavez killed -- wants Preckwinkle to cooperate with federal authorities.

Preckwinkle blamed a flawed bond court system for Chavez's release.

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis in February found that 11 of 346 inmates released from jail as of that date under Cook County's policy reoffended, having been arrested again on charges of drunk driving, theft and drug possession.

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |