News Local/State

Winnebago County Sheriff Says No To An Immigrant Detention Center In The Jail

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana Susan Stephens/WNIJ

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana announced he would not go through with a controversial plan to allow the federal government house immigration detainees in his jail in Rockford, in exchange for funding to help hire officers to staff the facility.

Caruana delivered his decision Thursday to a group of reporters, right before opponents planned to rally in downtown Rockford to urge him to kill the proposal. They argue that partnering with U-S Immigration and Customs Enforcement heightens fear in the community and hurts business.

The sheriff is looking for ways to increase staffing in the jail, which he says is 25 corrections officers short. He had hoped that ICE officials would agree to his terms, which included housing only criminal, not civil, detainees. He said they were not able to meet his minimum standards.

Caruana's proposal had been discussed earlier in the week at a public forum  --- the third of three ---  where emotions ran high.

Panel member Fred Tsao, with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, drew applause from the audience when he voiced his objections.

“One of the things that upsets me most about the immigration detention system is the way that it’s being used as a revenue generator,” Tsao said. “It’s a form of selling bodies.”

Sheriff Caruana said he understood understands the objections from the majority of people who packed the public forums: 

"I have emotions, and I understand and feel what these folks are saying," Caruana said after the meeting. "At the same time, I have to run this business called law enforcement, and I have to be prudent with everybody's dollars."