Sheriff: Paper made up number

February 18, 2019

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey alleges the Daily Journal “made up” a number about immigrant detainees at the county jail.

At a county oversight committee meeting Wednesday, Downey said he had conversations with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week at a Washington conference. He said he learned “80 to 90 percent of individuals arrested (by ICE) are criminals.”

“It’s not some made up number our local paper likes to print,” Downey, a Republican, told the County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Downey did not specify which number he believed was made up. But he might have been referring to statistics ICE itself reported about the Jerome Combs Detention Center, where the county houses ICE detainees.

ICE reported there were 138 detainees at Jerome Combs on Nov. 7, 2017, 60 percent of whom were listed as criminals and the rest as noncriminals. ICE has three threat categories; 55 of the local detainees were not listed in any threat level, according to ICE.

These numbers were published in two recent Daily Journal stories.

The county gets about $1 million per month from its contracts housing detainees for ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service. This money is credited for playing a big role in helping the county balance its budget.

Some residents are protesting the county’s ICE contract, saying the county should refrain from helping detain people they say simply are trying to find a better life in the United States.

The county counters that the ICE contract helps it financially and many of those in custody are criminals.

Both the county and ICE refuse to release information on what detainees are being held for locally, citing a federal regulation that mandates secrecy.

Heidi Altman, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, said ICE has given the 80 or 90 percent number before. But she said the agency has not provided specifics to back up that number.

She said November 2017 was the last time that ICE publicly released facility-specific breakdowns on criminal and noncriminal detainees.

Even with ICE’s numbers, Altman said, the agency considers those with migration-related convictions such as illegal entry or illegal re-entry as criminals.

“ICE has gotten so notoriously bad with (the lack of) transparency,” Altman said.

She said if the sheriff has specific information, he should release it. But she said a news release from ICE would not suffice.

The sheriff did not return three messages for comment. Late last year, Downey contended the newspaper had been unfair in its coverage of the county’s ICE-related issues.