A federal appellate court has upheld a law that bans McHenry County, and all other Illinois counties, from entering into federal contracts to hold ICE detainees in county jails.
The Illinois Way Forward Act prohibits jails in Illinois from housing ICE detainees. It went into effect on January 1.
Senate Bill 667 — also called the Illinois Way Forward Act — was passed 36-19 in May 2021 and signed into law by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in August 2021.
SB 667 says that no law enforcement agency and state or local government may enter into or renew any contract to hold or detain someone for federal immigration violations.
The law required all law enforcement agencies and governments in the state to terminate their agreement to house ICE detainees by January 1, 2022.
McHenry, Kankakee and Pulaski counties previously had contracts with ICE to house immigrants at their county jails.
McHenry County was paid $95 per day per ICE detainee.
The law also says that law enforcement agencies cannot provide information to federal immigration agents or transfer any person into their custody.
Law enforcement is not able to ask anyone about their immigration status under the new law.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said in September he filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of McHenry and Kankakee counties challenging the Illinois Way Forward Act.
“While perhaps proceeding from good intentions, this symbolic law does nothing other than serve as a demonstration of discontent by those in Springfield with current federal immigration policies and will only harm the very immigrants it purports to help,” Kenneally said at the time.
The state’s attorney’s office said most detainees held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the McHenry County Jail previously resided in Illinois, Wisconsin or northwest Indiana.
“The termination of these contracts will not result in the release of detainees. Rather, they will merely be transferred to other ICE facilities as far away as Louisiana,” the state’s attorney’s office said.
In December, U.S. District Court Judge Philip G. Reinhard dismissed the case with prejudice.
McHenry County filed an appeal with the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals.
The appeals court issued a stay order in late December extending the January 1 deadline to terminate ICE contracts until January 13, allowing the McHenry County Jail and Kankakee County Jail to continue housing ICE detainees while the court considered the county’s appeal.
That stay order expired and the jails stopped housing the detainees in February.
Last week, the appeals court issued a final opinion in the case, saying that the district court properly dismissed the case. “Both the preemption and intergovernmental immunity challenges fail as a matter of law.”
“The Illinois law is a permissible exercise of the State’s broad authority over its political subdivisions within our system of dual sovereignty,” the appeals court said in their 20-page opinion.