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Cook County Eliminated Its Gang Database, But Advocates Say Harm Continues

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
WBEZ News
by Sharon Heffernan

WBEZ News

Cook County Eliminated Its Gang Database, But Advocates Say Harm Continues

Shannon Heffernan

May 14, 2019

Bill Healy/WBEZ

At a Cook County hearing on Tuesday, advocates reiterated their concerns about the accuracy of the decommissioned gang database and said having been listed on it could hurt a person's ability to get a job or housing, and affect criminal court hearings and lead to negative immigration proceedings.

Cook County advocates warned that the harm caused by the Regional Gang Intelligence Database could continue, even though the county passed an ordinance to eliminate the database in February. At a county hearing on Tuesday, advocates reiterated concerns about the accuracy of the database and said having been listed on it could hurt a person's ability to get a job or housing, and affect criminal court hearings and lead to negative immigration proceedings.

In January 2019, the countywide database contained information on over 26,000 individuals, and that information was shared with hundreds of outside agencies. One of the major concerns expressed by advocates at Tuesday’s hearing was that those outside agencies may have saved the shared information and could continue to use it, even after Cook County’s sheriff destroys the database. Advocates are asking that individuals who were on the database be confidentially notified, so that they can deal with any repercussions.

Julie Mao, an immigration law attorney, said database information is often used by Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) to target someone for detention and deportation.

“Notification would really allow people, as well as their immigration attorneys, to understand where those ICE allegations come from, particularly if they come from a now defunct Cook County database,” said Mao.

She said notifications would allow people to better defend themselves in immigration court.

Ava Garcia, with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos United Workers Center, testified at the hearing that her community has families who’ve been torn apart because of deportations related to a gang label and said the database “turns junk data into a weapon for deportation and criminalization.”

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart was not at the hearing and no one from his office answered questions about how the office maintained, shared and used the database. In a statement provided to the board, the sheriff said it was not appropriate for his office to participate in the hearing because of an open investigation by Cook County’s inspector general on the database.

“The purpose of today was to hear directly from those who implemented the database. And so if our questions go unanswered, we will know that the sheriff’s office didn't act in good faith,” Cinthya Rodriquez, a community organizer, said.

Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice report for WBEZ follow her at @shannon_h.



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