Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinklehas thrown cold water on a proposal by a high-level federal official to end a months-long dispute over immigration enforcement at the county jail.
In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, Preckwinkle labels as "premature" Morton's invitation to set up a "working group" to resolve differences over the county's refusal to hold suspected illegal immigrants after they post bail.
Preckwinkle goes on to say she is willing to meet with Morton to discuss the issue, even as she expresses "strong reservations" about holding people forImmigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, without a warrant after a judge has ordered them to be released.
The County Board president was responding to an earlier Morton letter in which he proposed covering the costs of both putting ICE agents inside the jail and holding people on immigration detainers until his agency can take custody.
Those steps would open up the county to legal action and violate people's rights, Preckwinkle wrote. Although in the past she expressed concerns about costs, Preckwinkle said Tuesday that she now is more concerned with the legal issues.
"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," she told the Tribune. "Equal justice before the law is more important to me than the budgetary considerations."
Preckwinkle's letter is just the latest volley in a dispute that surfaced earlier this year after a Mexican illegal immigrant living in Chicago failed to show up in court to face a charge that his drunken driving resulted in a death.
Saul Chavez's release from the county lockup came about two months after the County Board voted in September to stop honoring requests from ICE to detain suspects until the agency checked their immigration status.
Critics of the ordinance contend that Chavez could not have avoided prosecution if the county had honored a detainer ICE placed on him, but Preckwinkle said it's up to criminal court judges to set proper bail to ensure people don't skip out. She ordered a study on how bail is set by county judges.
But Commissioner Timothy Schneider, R-Streamwood, said he was disappointed Preckwinkle declined Morton's invitation. Schneider said he will now push for passage of an ordinance to require jail officials to hold for ICE people who are on a federal terrorist database or have been charged with felonies involving violence or drugs.
"It seems to be what people want," Schneider said. "This isn't about immigration. That's for the federal government to deal with."
ICE officials, meanwhile, said they would continue to try to find a resolution.
ICE's proposal "would have enhanced public safety in Cook County at little to no cost to the county," ICE spokesman Brian Hale wrote in an email. "Regardless of the disappointing response, ICE remains committed to exploring a solution that promotes public safety."