File Photo – McHenry County Jail in Woodstock | Photo: Google Street View

A judge ruled a federal lawsuit can continue after multiple former immigration inmates at the McHenry County Jail claimed they were forced to perform unpaid labor while detained.

The suit was filed in April in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, court records show.

The plaintiffs include Aleksey Ruderman, Jason Clarke, Jahat Evelyn, Basaru Asolo, James Forero and Chris Pocknell.

The suit named both McHenry County and former McHenry County sheriffs Bill Prim and Keith Nygren as the defendants. Several others who oversee the jail were also named as defendants.

The lawsuit says that the plaintiffs were subjected to forced labor while housed in the jail and were forced to perform various janitorial and maintenance services “without compensation and against their will.”

Detainees who refused to clean were punished by being “locked in their cells or sent to solitary confinement,” the suit alleges.

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“The practice of forcing immigrants to clean their cells and common living areas of the facility, for no pay whatsoever, and under the threat of punishment, is a violation of federal and state human trafficking laws,” attorneys for the plaintiffs said in their complaint.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office has an “Inmate Worker Program” where corrections officers recruit eligible inmates to fill paid worker positions, their website says.

“Officers assign these individuals to work, under officer supervision, in the kitchen, laundry room, and custodial services. The Worker Program is a means of positive and productive interaction for the inmates and can help them with job opportunities upon release,” the website says.

The McHenry County Jail began housing civil immigration detainees for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2003.

The Illinois Way Forward Act was passed in 2021 by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

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The act prohibits law enforcement agencies and state and local governments from entering into contracts to hold or detain someone for federal immigration violations.

McHenry, Kankakee and Pulaski counties were the only counties in Illinois that previously held contracts with ICE to house immigrants at their county jails.

The counties stopped housing the detainees in early 2021 in accordance with the act. McHenry County was paid $95 per day per ICE detainee, the sheriff’s office previously said.

In early December, the defendants in the lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims, calling their arguments “meritless” and saying the Trafficking Victims Protection Act does not apply.

The federal district court allowed all federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act claims to proceed.

The court did dismiss some of the plaintiffs’ Illinois Trafficking Victims Protection Act claims due to time limits brought by those claims.

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The lawsuit against McHenry County seeks damages in excess of $5 million.

A spokesperson for the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office previously declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A future court date in the case has not been scheduled yet but the court said the discovery process can resume between the plaintiffs and defendants.