Winnebago County’s Sheriff dropped the idea Thursday of allowing the federal government to house immigration detainees in his jail. Gary Caruana said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not able to agree to his terms.
In exchange for committing a portion of the jail to the federal prisoners, guarding them, and caring for them, ICE would have paid the county a daily per-prisoner fee; $80 was one figure mentioned frequently during discussions.
But, as Caruana said repeatedly at public forums over the past few weeks, he would only pursue the agreement if they played by his rules.
- The county would retain control of the facility, and local law enforcement would not change its current focus. That included not being asked to participate in ICE round-ups of undocumented residents.
- Only undocumented felons who had committed serious crimes would be housed, and Caruana wanted the right to reject any individuals as prisoners.
- Both sides would have 30 days to pull out of the agreement.
- There would have to be a significant profit per inmate, which would be used to hire more corrections officers and fund public-safety programs.
- The process and monitoring of implementation would be transparent to both the public and the County Board.
Caruana said the deal was tripped up by his requirement that he would only house undocumented prisoners who had committed serious crimes, and “when we hit that roadblock on the "no civil detainers," they couldn’t do it and we stayed true to our word.”
Immigration rights activists spoke out at a number of public hearings leading up to the Sheriff’s decision. They said allowing ICE to house its prisoners in the county jail would send the wrong message to the immigrant community, where fear of deportation is running high. They also said it could hurt business.
Caruana said he was listening, and it was important to “work our way through tough decisions like this as a community and move downstream, and I think that's what we did. I think it is one to grow on as a community, and I think that’s what we did.”
Caruana insisted the deal is dead and the county’s prisoner-housing agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service does not extend to ICE detainees.
Crowds opposing the detention center idea were large and vocal during the public hearings leading up to Caruana’s decision. A large protest that was planned to take place before Thursday night’s Winnebago County Board meeting was transformed into a celebration when Caruana announced his decision to reporters shortly before the rally’s scheduled start.