Sheriff says “sanctuary county” title is misleading


CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Donald Trump’s latest comments could concern East Central Illinois.

He’s talking about cutting off funding for so-called “sanctuary” cities and counties; places where local law enforcement don’t fully comply with requests from the federal government to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Champaign County is considered one of those. In Illinois, Champaign is the only downstate county with that designation.

So who decided Champaign would be a “sanctuary” county? The sheriff did, but he says the term “sanctuary” doesn’t really make sense and wants people to understand, doing otherwise would have bigger consequences.

“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” said Trump.

Besides preaching about building a wall at Mexico’s expense, Trump’s now taking aim at so-called sanctuary cities and counties. But with those places being few and far between, why is Champaign County among them?

“I’m very glad that you asked me,” says sheriff Dan Walsh, “because I have citizens that read about sanctuary counties and wonder, why am I sticking my nose in a political issue? I’m not.”

Walsh isn’t just an elected law enforcement official. He’s also a lawyer with decades of experience. A few years back, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started the Secure Communities Program, Champaign County participated, at first.

“What they asked us to do,” says Walsh, “if we had somebody, say, serving a sentence, and they wanted to get this person out of the country, they would send us a detainer, which really was a request, not a court order, for us to hold someone for 48 hours. We stopped participating because there’s case law that a detainer, a request issued to a county sheriff, is not a court order.”

Walsh says detaining people at ICE’s request meant they’d be held for longer than they legally could be. It’s a potential violation of someone’s Fourth Amendment rights, so detainees started suing counties and winning. Many of those cases were within the same judicial circuit as Champaign County.

“I did tell them, if you give me a court order from an immigration judge, or any other judge, we’ll hold them because then there’s a court order. We never got those.”

“Not only is there no such designation as a sanctuary city,” says Ricardo Diaz, “Mr. Trump is, once again, in public, taking up things that he doesn’t really understand in private.”

Diaz speaks for the C-U Immigration Forum. He says the term “sanctuary” is misleading at best.

“You have cities that are accused of helping immigrants, but really this whole nation has always enabled immigrants, so you would end up with a nation that would be called a sanctuary nation,” says Diaz.

That’s why Walsh isn’t fond of the term “sanctuary,” either. He says Champaign County is no sanctuary for any sort of criminals, only one for constitutional rights.

“I did not make any political decision. I made a decision based on what I perceive to be case law.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says, when local governments do comply with detention requests, it helps get potentially violent offenders off the street. In short, Walsh says that could come at the cost of violating someone’s constitutional rights and open the door to lawsuits.

ICE’s Secure Communities Program was discontinued in 2014 because local governments keep getting sued. Rather than issuing detention requests, they instead send county jails “notification” requests.

It means ICE asks local law enforcement to tell them when they expect a person of interest to be released. At that time, ICE has the option of picking them up themselves.

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