Jerome Combs Detention Center Sheriff

Activists continue to criticize the detention of immigrants at Kankakee County’s Jerome Combs Detention Center. Sheriff Mike Downey offered a sharp retort this week.

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey this week objected to an activist’s contention that the county was part of a war against the nation’s immigrants.

He said the reference to a war was “an insult to every veteran who has served our country. For them to clarify that as a war is ridiculous.”

Mike Downey

Mike Downey

The sheriff was speaking at a meeting of the County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee. A day before, two immigration advocates from the northern Chicago suburbs spoke at a meeting of the full board, criticizing the county’s detention of immigrants.

The county houses inmates on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service, making about $1 million per month, which helps the county make ends meet.

Pro-immigrant activists have spoken at County Board meetings for months.

At this week’s County Board meeting, Margaret Clarke, of Skokie, said ICE was jailing people who have a right to be in the United States.

“I want you to know there is a war on immigrants in this country and that holding immigrants in your county jail so you can balance the books is part of that war,” Clarke told the board. “Your jail is part of a much bigger picture and a much more aggressive policy.”

During the meeting the next day, Roger Hess, R-Momence, the committee’s chairman, asked the sheriff if he wanted to respond to the activists.

Downey took the opportunity.

“If they really want people who commit sexual assault against 5-year-olds to get out of prison, then come out and say it,” he said.

But he said he doubted the activists actually meant to suggest the release of serious criminals.

“If they do, shame on them,” Downey said.

Earlier this month, the county jail released numbers showing that 85 percent of immigrants in the jail during May were in the criminal category.

However, immigration activists question that number, arguing it’s actually lower.

Peggy Slater, of Winnetka, told the County Board this week that ICE wrongly includes traffic violators and those who have been arrested but not charged.

“We would like to request rather than looking at one month’s records, we would like six months of actual conviction histories for people being held there,” Slater said.

In response, Downey said the county didn’t write the federal immigration laws.

“Go to Washington, D.C., and change the laws,” the sheriff said. “The chairman (of the County Board) and I have extended the olive branch and said we will help in changing the laws if we can. We have offered that help. Not once have we gotten a call back saying they want to work together.”

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