Sheriffs sue to block Illinois Trust Act, which prevents them from holding immigrant prisoners without a court warrant

Four sheriffs Monday filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop enforcement of the Illinois Trust Act, which restricts law enforcement from coordinating with federal officials regarding the custody of undocumented immigrants.

The act prohibits local law enforcement from detaining people based on their immigration status without a court-ordered warrant. The act makes it illegal to detain a prisoner based only on a request or “detainer” order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that handles deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey, Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle and Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders. It names Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul as defendant.

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim appears at a news conference in Rockford in 2019.(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)
Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle speaks to the press near a home involved in an overnight fire in 2017, in Dixon.(Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

The sheriffs stated in a news release that the Trust Act has exposed them and their offices to litigation over the years, as three of the four have been sued for alleged violations of the Act.

The suit asserts that the federal government alone has broad authority “to regulate matters pertaining to immigration and the status of aliens.” States may not obstruct enforcement of federal law, as the suit maintains the Trust Act does.

Most of the conflict between the Trust Act and federal law revolves around the use of “detainers,” which require local law enforcement to keep custody of a person for up to 48 hours to give federal officials time to check his or her immigration status. The individual may then be released or turned over to federal custody.

The ban on detainers, the suit states, unconstitutionally blocks federal law enforcement. The suit seeks temporary and permanent injunctions against enforcement of the law.

The law does not infringe on federal law enforcement, in the view of Fred Taso, senior policy council for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Instead, he said, the act restricts local law enforcement from honoring requests to hold prisoners without a declaration by a court that there is probable cause to believe they committed a crime.

Federal courts have held that incarcerating prisoners based on ICE detainer requests without probable cause is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable seizure, Tsao said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the sheriffs in Ogle and Stephenson counties, alleging violations of the act, ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said. The McHenry sheriff also was sued based on allegations that he’d violated the Trust Act by illegally detaining a prisoner based on his immigration status, but that suit was dropped.

The new lawsuit comes about two weeks after the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Republican lawmakers raised alarms about a change in policy by which the state no longer detains convicted felons who are “undocumented immigrants” once they’ve served their sentences.

In 2019, 223 people were transferred, including some convicted of sexual offenses involving minors, murder or attempted murder, Kankakee Sheriff Downey said. It wasn’t clear how many were deported.

The debate comes at a time when immigration law enforcement has become a particularly charged subject. Republican President Donald Trump has pushed for stronger enforcement, while criticizing Democratic-controlled “sanctuary” cities and states, where local laws limit cooperation with federal officials.

*Story by Chicago-Tribune