Back in 2019, Illinois became first in the nation to ban private immigration detention facilities. Now, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law further legislation that effectively ends immigration detention in the state. The Illinois Way Forward Act mandates local jails end their contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by next year, and prohibits the renewal of any existing agreements.
llinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Executive Director Lawrence Benito said that with Monday’s legislative action, “we have taken a huge step toward becoming the most welcoming state in the nation. Ending ICE detention in Illinois will protect immigrant communities from the deportation machine.”
In addition to the ousting of ICE from local jails, new laws “address hate crimes against immigrant communities, expand workplace protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and create the Illinois Immigration Impact Task Force to ensure state programs and policies best serve immigrant residents,” the governor’s office said. The Welcoming Illinois Office, enacted under an executive order by Pritzker, will seek to support new refugees and immigrants.
“This law is a result of years of persistent work by a broad coalition of immigrant communities and advocates,” the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) said in a statement received by Daily Kos. HANA Center leader and ICIRR coalition member Hwangchan Yu called the legislation “a huge victory for the immigrant community because we've greatly reduced ICE's ability to separate me, my family and my community from our homes.”
According to South Side Weekly, three local facilities jailing hundreds of immigrants are expected to have to end their ICE contracts by January. “With this victory we are ready to continue organizing to address the separation of families and communities, inhumane treatment, and the exploitation of our work and labor in this country,” Yu continued.
That report importantly notes that advocates have expressed concerns over what happens to the immigrants currently being detained at these local jails. While opposing this sort of legislation in the past, ICE officials have cautioned (isn’t that nice of them?) states that they’ll be forced to detain immigrants far away from their families and attorneys. But ICE doesn’t have to detain them in the first place. During the pandemic, ICE was allowing some immigrants to shelter in their own homes and communities. Unfortunately, the ICE population has again escalated.
“Together, we will now turn to the next phase of this work: ensuring that, as Illinois jails end their ICE contracts, the people who have been detained under those contracts are released to reunite with their families and pursue their immigration cases from their own communities and with access to legal counsel,” NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy said.
Advocates also said that while this legislation is a historic win for immigrant communities, they still need a path to citizenship to remain safe from ICE, and only the federal government can do that. Currently, advocates are fighting to pass a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants, temporary status holders, and essential workers like farmworkers through the budget reconciliation process. Senate Republicans are (predictably) trying to derail that process through the amendment process.
"These bills mark a crucial step towards protecting immigrants and decriminalizing immigration, but our work is not done,” said Rep. Chuy Garcia. “We need a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants, and I will keep fighting in Congress to make it happen." Benito said “it's time to pass the baton from Illinois to D.C., where President Biden and Congress must take the next step by reining in ICE and passing a pathway to citizenship now."