02/10/2012 12:10 pm ET

Cook County ICE Detainers: 11 Undocumented Inmates Reoffend, Sparking Outrage

Eleven of 346 inmates released from jail under Cook County's policy that ignores federal detention requests have reoffended, renewing concerns over the county's controversial decision to violate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mandates.

Eleven undocumented inmates were released from the Cook County Jail -- and not into ICE custody -- only to be arrested again on charges of drunk driving, theft and drug possession, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Opponents of the policy championed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle are calling for the county to reassess its position and resume detaining "persons of interest" until federal officials can respond.

The same board that approved the noncompliance policy in September held a public hearing on the topic Thursday, where Sheriff Tom Dart testified that some cases warrant compliance with federal detention orders, the Chicago News Cooperative reports. Commissioners Timothy Schneider, Elizabeth Gorman and Gregg Goslin have proposed an amendment that would allow Dart to enforce detainers for offenders accused of certain felonies or on terrorist watch lists.

The county's current policy ignores federal requests to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for an additional 48 hours after they would otherwise be released. Preckwinkle takes issue with the high cost of lengthy incarcerations, and has said that the county will further detain inmates if ICE foots the bill.

In the recent high-profile case of Saul Chavez, a suspected undocumented immigrant believed to have fled the country after posting bond on vehicular homicide and DUI charges, Preckwinkle shifted blame from the county's detainer policy to the bond court system.

Preckwinkle and other county officials have also expressed concern that enforcing ICE detainer requests can violate civil liberties. Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia testified at Thursday's hearing that the detainers sometimes wrongfully target U.S. citizens, according to the Sun-Times.

"Information from your office indicates that during the month of December...there were approximately 259 persons in your custody subject to ICE detainers," Garcia said, according to the Sun-Times. "If our information is correct 57 claimed they were U.S. citizens. If the ICE detainers were being honored, it's conceivable that someone who had an ICE detainer request pending...could have been held up to 48 hours against their will."

Dart said there are currently 148 inmates in jail on charges including murder, aggravated battery and sexual assault eligible for release on bail that would be detained if Cook County complied with ICE detainer requests, the Chicago Tribune reports. Dart says the severity of the crimes committed should determine whether or not individuals are surrendered into federal custody.

"Let's make a distinction," Dart said to county commissioners, according to the Tribune. "Clearly, there are some offenses that people agree are of a minor nature, other offenses that are more serious and, those more serious ones, we should deal with them differently."

ICE officials were not present at the hearing, but released a statement expressing their willingness to work with local government to enforce federal immigration and customs laws.

See Toni Preckwinkle explaining the county's position at a recent press conference: