04/11/2012 03:20 pm ET

Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, Refuses To Deport Undocumented Inmates

Once again, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has rejected attempts by the Obama administration to turn arrested undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration authorities.

At first, Preckwinkle said the county's financial problems were behind their decision to allow undocumented arrestees who post bond to go free, saying that they shouldn't have to pick up the tab for a federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mandate. When ICE offered to pay for the jail time, she changed her tune.

In a letter obtained by the Chicago Tribune to ICE Director John Morton this week, the board president says money is no longer the main issue.

"The more I've gotten into it, the more offensive and unjust it seems to me to make distinctions between people based on their documentation," Preckwinkle told the Tribune. "Equal justice before the law is more important to me than the budgetary considerations."

Other county officials have also expressed concern that enforcing ICE detainer requests can violate civil liberties. Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia testified at a February hearing that ICE detainers sometimes wrongfully target U.S. citizens.

A Chicago Sun-Times investigation in February found that 11 of those released from Cook County Jail thanks to Preckwinkle's noncompliance with federal immigration laws were arrested again for drunk driving, theft and drug possession. Preckwinkle blamed a flawed bond court system for those releases, saying that if judges spent more time reviewing their individual cases, they wouldn't have been released in the first place.

While immigration activists have been happy 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.

“I'm unhappy. What I want is Ms. Preckwinkle and Cook County sheriff and all the other members of the criminal justice system to comply with ICE,” McCann's brother told Fox Chicago. “I do not want illegal convicted felons to remain in this country. They need to be deported. And the way to do that is to cooperate with ICE.”

Preckwinkle told Fox Chicago that if Chavez was a flight risk -- which he clearly was -- he should not have been released on bond at all. She said holding people without a warrant or after a judge orders them to be released is unethical -- regardless of their documentation.

“Over time, we've expanded the rights and leveled the playing field across a variety of issues, gender, race sexual orientation,” Preckwinkle told Fox. “The last frontier is how we treat the undocumented in this country.”

She said she is open to meeting with ICE officials to discuss the ongoing issue, but the county's policy will remain for now.