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County to hold hearing on jailed illegal immigrants
Commissioners call on sheriff, state's attorney to offer input

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Cook County commissioners voted Wednesday to hold a hearing on the contentious issue of whether to keep suspected illegal immigrants behind bars while federal authorities check their immigration status, and called on the county's sheriff and state's attorney to weigh in.

Commissioner Timothy Schneider, R-Streamwood, introduced a plan to again allow the county to hold suspected illegal immigrants at the request of federal officials, but only in felony cases involving violence or drugs or when they are listed in a federal terrorist database.

That came after board President Toni Preckwinkle, a Democrat, sought to reframe the debate last week by announcing a task force to examine how bail is set for all defendants in county court, regardless of their immigration status.

County commissioners voted in September to stop honoring requests from federalImmigration and Customs Enforcement agents to detain suspects who were in jail on other charges until the agency checked their immigration status. Board members said the policy put some people who had committed minor offenses at risk of deportation.

But the policy has come under scrutiny in recent weeks because of the case of Saul Chavez, an illegal immigrant and convicted felon who disappeared after making bail on charges he struck and killed pedestrian William McCann while allegedly driving drunk in the Logan Square neighborhood.

Preckwinkle said she would urge Sheriff Tom Dart, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and federal immigration officials to attend a hearing on Schneider's proposal.

Dart has said he believes federal detainer requests should be honored in cases where suspects are accused of serious crimes. Dart spokesman Frank Bilecki said Dart looks forward to participating in the hearing.

Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said the state's attorney would be willing to take part as well.

Also Wednesday:

•Cook County Health System CEO Ramanathan Raju blamed an estimated 2011 revenue shortfall of $166 million at the county health system on a sharp increase in the number of patients with no insurance, combined with ongoing delays in reimbursements from the state.

•Preckwinkle called for an independent investigation into the Saturday death of 16-year-old Terry Bell Jr. at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Bell got into a dispute with another resident during a basketball game, then collapsed as authorities led him away, according to the medical examiner's office. The teen's mother said he was being treated for high blood pressure.




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