Jerome Combs Detention Center (copy)

ICE denied request for information on its detainees at Kankakee County’s Jerome Combs Detention Center.

KANKAKEE — Want to know who ICE is housing at the local jail? It’s none of your business, at least in the federal government’s eyes.

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied the Daily Journal’s request for the names of ICE detainees at the local jail and the reasons for their detention.

The sheriff’s office, which regularly releases the name of local inmates, had earlier declined the newspaper’s request for information on ICE detainees at Kankakee’s Jerome Combs Detention Center. It cited a federal regulation barring local and state facilities housing such detainees from releasing any information about them.

The newspaper has sent a revised request to ICE seeking the reasons detainees are in the local jail, without releasing their names.

Local ICE opponents suggest that many detainees are jailed for immigration violations or minor offenses, while sheriff’s officials contend most have criminal backgrounds, including rape and sexual assault.

Given the federal prohibition, it’s unclear which side is right.

In its denial, ICE said the newspaper, as a third-party requester, must get permission from detainees themselves to access information about them, citing privacy regulations.

ICE did not return calls about the public purpose behind its policy.

In an interview, Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said his department followed the law by withholding the information. Asked about his opinion on the federal secrecy, the sheriff said, “That’s not up to me.”

In late 2016, the sheriff’s office entered into an agreement with ICE to start housing detainees, in addition to its long-standing contract to jail inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Because of the agreements, the county gets millions in extra money that helps pay for other county functions. Opponents say the county shouldn’t balance its budget on the backs of immigrants.

According to an ICE report, 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.

Heidi Altman, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, said it’s important to note that immigrants with migration-related criminal convictions such as illegal entry or illegal reentry are classified as criminals.

“They also generally include individuals with traffic-related offenses in that category,” Altman said in an email.

In an interview, Altman said there was a “blackhole of information” on how ICE determines its risk classifications.

“We have long known ICE has no meaningful threat assessment,” Altman said.

She added the county has no say on who gets housed at the local jail.

“ICE pulls all the strings,” she said. “I have never seen a contract that gives a locality any authority or any decision-making power.”

Downey said he respects Connect Kankakee, which is spearheading the local opposition to ICE detentions. He gave its members a tour recently.

“I have nothing but respect for what Connect is doing. This is something they feel passionate about,” the sheriff said. “When we gave them the tour, it was nothing but respectful. We’ll never agree on certain issues, but we’ll keep the lines of communication open.”