Jerome Combs Detention Center

Jerome Combs Detention Center

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County will join a federal lawsuit to fight a new law that would end its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrant detainees.

The Kankakee County Board unanimously approved the move during a special meeting Wednesday. The county will join a federal lawsuit against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul in conjunction with McHenry County.

Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the Illinois Way Forward Act signed into law Aug. 2 by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. The act requires that existing agreements between ICE and jails in McHenry, Pulaski and Kankakee counties end by Jan. 1. The bill also prohibits any future agreements.

The lawsuit said the act violates both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions; it violates intergovernmental immunity; and there is a federal presumption of inconsistent state law.

“This is not an immigration lawsuit, it is a constitutional lawsuit,” said Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler. “The U.S. Constitution has been violated, in multiple areas, and without question. States cannot infringe on interstate commerce, which is precisely what Illinois is doing in this case.

“I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I take on that obligation with pride and passion,” Wheeler added. “But for the Illinois Legislature and the governor, this is pure politics and propaganda with no connection to fixing a broken immigration system.”

He said the counties’ lawsuit is centered firmly on the law and the rights of all citizens, “regardless of the backdrop used to subvert the constitutional rights one does not agree with.”

“States cannot restrict interstate commerce, no matter the depth of their political motivations,” he said.

The lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Rockford, according to McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally.

“While perhaps proceeding from good intentions, this symbolic law does nothing other than serve as a demonstration of discontent by those in Springfield with current federal immigration policies and will only harm the very immigrants it purports to help,” Keneally said in a press release.

Most detainees held by ICE at the McHenry County Jail previously resided in Illinois, Wisconsin or northwest Indiana. When the new law terminates the existing contract, it will not result in the release of detainees. Rather, they will merely be transferred to other ICE facilities as far away as Louisiana, according to the news release.

By forcing all ICE detention facilities in Illinois to close, detainees currently held in Illinois may be moved to facilities with less favorable safety standards and more crowding, Kenneally said.

“It is difficult to see how moving detainees away from their families and legal teams to overcrowded facilities in less sympathetic jurisdictions will benefit anyone,” Kenneally said.

Kenneally’s office will be handling the lawsuit. Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said his office is not involved in the litigation.

Loss of jobs

As the counties are paid for holding ICE detainees, the end of the agreements will have a detrimental financial impact for both.

For the fiscal years 2016 through 2020, Kankakee County averaged 122 detainees per day. At those rates, according to the lawsuit, the county would lose nearly $4 million in revenue per year. In McHenry County, they average 240 ICE detainees per year and have received $8 million in revenues annually since 2016.

Both counties argue that the loss of revenue would result in lost jobs at their respective correctional facilities.

Kankakee County has had an agreement in place with ICE since March 2019, while McHenry’s began in 2003.

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at and 815-937-3366.


Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is