Illinois GOP Governor Signs Bill Helping Criminal Immigrants

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Monday that sharply curtails the ability of law enforcement officials across the state to detain criminal immigrants on behalf of federal authorities.

After months of deliberating over what to do with the so-called Illinois TRUST Act, the first-term Republican signaled last week that he would approve the measure, which effectively ends the practice of honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests — commonly known as “detainers” — unless they are backed by a criminal warrant.

Rauner signed the bill at a crowded ceremony in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, the heart of the city’s Mexican-American community. Immigrant advocates celebrated the new law, calling it the “gold standard” for state protections against deportation, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

“This bill will provide an unprecedented level of protection for Illinois’ half-million undocumented residents who could otherwise enter the deportation pipeline through any simple interaction with police, including a traffic violation or a call to report a crime,” said a joint statement from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Prior to Monday’s signing, Rauner had called the TRUST Act a “very reasonable” limit on the power of local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws. The bill prevents all state and local police from stopping, detaining or arresting someone based solely on the person’s immigration status. Those restrictions apply to ICE detainers, which are administrative requests to hold a criminal alien in jail for up to 48 hours in order to give ICE agents time to take the subject into custody.

The version of the TRUST Act signed by Rauner is scaled back from an original proposal that would have placed tighter restrictions on cooperation between local police and immigration authorities. Following input from law enforcement stakeholders, including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the bill was amended to allow for continued information sharing with federal agents. Language establishing “safe zones” — places such as schools, hospitals and courthouses — that would be off-limits to ICE agents was also scrubbed from the final version.

Opponents of the TRUST Act say it makes Illinois a sanctuary state and puts the state at risk for losing federal law enforcement grants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attached new conditions to the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program last month, requiring future applicants to give immigration agents unfettered access to jails and provide notice 48 hours in advance when a criminal alien is going to be released from custody.

The City of Chicago sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) over the new requirements earlier this month, but it is not immediately clear how the TRUST Act will affect Illinois’ eligibility for federal criminal justice grants. The state received just over $6.5 million in Byrne grants in Fiscal Year 2017, according to DOJ records.

When it comes to the acceptance of ICE detainers, the new Illinois law is actually less permissive than Chicago’s policy. City jail officials can honor administrative detention requests without a warrant if the subject is in the Chicago Police Department’s gang database.

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