Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Activists to McHenry County—We Won’t Back Down! End ICE Detention at the Jail

Less than two weeks ago we gathered on Woodstock Square for an Abolish ICE in McHenry County Protest.  Now local activists are calling for a return to the Square this Friday, August 14 from 8:30 to 10 pm for A Vigil for an ICE Free McHenry County.

Event sponsors include Activists for Racial Equity, D156 LASO, Elgin Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, McHenry Direct Action, Standing Up Against Racism - Woodstock, and Occupy Elgin.   It will feature “multiple speakers and watch a visual art installation.  Masks are required and the city asks that we maintain 6 foot social distancing using the spray-painted circles on the lawn. Candles are not allowed, so please bring a flashlight, use the light on your phone, or bring a battery-operated candle.”

The Old Man addressing the Abolish ICE in McHenry County Protest on behalf of the Tree of Life Social Justice Team.  I called not just for abolishing ICE but also the Department of Homeland Security.
A main demand of the earlier Abolish ICE Protest was that the McHenry County Board act to cancel the Sheriff’s Department lease of a floor in the county Jail as an immigrant detention facility.  This week’s vigil will keep up the public pressure for justice.  That has been controversial ever since the Jail added another floor specifically to be leased out to other jurisdictions as a revenue stream.  At first overflow prisoners from other collar county jails or juvenile offenders were expected to fill the new beds.  But those rentals failed to either fill the beds or cover the county’s expenses including additional staff.  In 2004 the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the U.S. Marshalls service which is in charge of the custody of detained immigrants made an offer the Sheriff couldn’t—or wouldn’t—refuse to pay $95 a day per detainee and basically guarantee full usage of the facility.

The public enterance to the fortress like McHenry County Jail.  The Immigration Detention facility occupies the entire fourth floor..  Several demonstrations and vigils have been held by the jail over the years.

There was always some opposition on the Board to this scheme out of fiscal, not moral, concerns.  When the lease was last up for renewal there were questions by some Board members whether the payments actually covered expenses.  But the criticism was more about an internal Republican Party schism between old guard “moderates” represented by former Sheriff Keith Nygren, supporters of his political nemesis former State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi, and far right wing party insurgents.

Meanwhile local immigrant rights activists and groups have staged a series of marches, rallies, and protests both at the jail and on the Square in recent years, the first being a march from the Square to the County Administrative building as far back as 2007 led by Carlos Acosta of the old Latino Coalition, Maggie Rivera of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the Rev. Dan Larsen of the old Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock (now Tree of Life UU in McHenry.)   It was a major theme of the Hate Has No Home Here rally in 2017, an immigrant rights event in 2018, both on the Square, and last summer’s Lights for Liberty rally and vigil at the jail co-sponsored by Indivisible Illinois, the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI), LULAC, McHenry County Progressives, McHenry County NOW, Woodstock Pride, and the Tree of Life Social Justice Team among others.

Rev. Dan Larsen helping to lead McHenry County's first immigrant justice march from Woodstock Square to the County Government complex with Magier Rivera  and Carlos Acosta in 2007.

Immigration, like guns and abortion brings the rabid right wing to a broiling froth of rage.  The Illinois Minutemen was active in the county in 2008.  Recognized as a hate group by the Sothern Poverty Law Center’s Klan Watch, the group threatened vigilante militia action against local Latino communities.  Counter protests to their meetings and bad publicity led to the formal group fading away, but not its principle members or its hate-filled mission.  McHenry County leaders went on to win seats of the County Board and the McHenry County College Board, were an important cog in the far-right takeover of the of the McHenry County Republican Party, former Minuteman leader Diane Evertsen was elected to a term as GOP County Chairman.  That is how deeply ingrained anti-immigrant attitudes are ingrained in the party and it has been whipped up by the emergence of Donald Trump as essentially a white nationalist president.

The Illinois Minuteman Project was an active anti-immigrant hate group.  It's local leaders became McHenry County Republican Party right-wing mainstays.
It wasn’t until this year with four Democrats on the County Board and the approval of at least bringing the question up by County Board Chair Jack Franks that Carlos Acosta, now representing District 5 was able to get a resolution to terminate the ICE contract onto the agenda. 

On July 28, two days after the Abolish ICE in McHenry County Protest, the Board’s Law and Government Committee took up Acosta’s motion.  It was an ugly scene.  Outraged opponents of the resolution complained that rescinding the contract had become “political” as if any issue brought by constituents to the Board wasn’t.  Jeff Thorsten of Crystal Lake representing District 2 scolded community members who came to speak on behalf of the resolution saying “the way you guys play ball sucks.”  Chuck Wheeler of District 4 parroted the claims of Trump supporting Sheriff Bill Prim who falsely accused most detainees in the facility of being criminals who are housed in comfortable conditions.  Only Acosta and District 2 Democrat Kelli Wegner supported the resolutions with Thorseten and Wheeler joined by Michelle Aavang (D-6), John Jung (D-5), Bob Nowak (D-1), and Tom Wilbek (D-1) to nix the measure.

But it was not the final word on the subject from the Board.  The whole Board will consider the measure at their meeting on Tuesday, August 18.  This week’s Vigil will help rally support for the measure.  In the meantime advocates are especially encouraging community members to contact their Board members but especially these:

They recommend to make sure the e-mails sent from the links are read, “include your own unique subject line (Shut ICE down, End ICE, etc.) and one unique sentence that shares why you believe ICE needs to go. This way, your emails won’t be marked as spam.” Phone calls can also be made and residents are encouraged to attend the meeting to make their views known.
Since the July 26 protest news reports have highlighted the urgency of abolishing ICE as well as ending the local contract.  Three detainees and one staff member at the Jail have now tested positive for the Coronavirus.  This comes after two inmates successfully sued to be released from custody because their health conditions put them at high risk if exposed.  Covid-19 is notoriously infectious in cramped jail or prison conditions and ICE has actually spread the infection by moving detainees from detention center to detention center.
Meanwhile a report by Buzz Feed News said that “There’s been a major increase in the use Of force against immigrants At ICE Detention Centers during The pandemic” siting instances of the use of pepper spray and  pepper balls in confined spaces at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California and other facilities.  More than 600 detainees have been subjected to these uses of force in at least 10 instances since March.  Detainees were kept in close spaces with gas still in the air for prolonged periods especially injuring or putting at risk those with respiratory problems and other conditions.  While there have been no reported incidents at the McHenry County facility these episodes highlight the essential cruelty of the detention system.
On Monday our local daily paper, the Northwest Herald ran a full page op-ed piece by members of the organizations sponsoring Friday’s vigil.  After outlining the experiences of trying to get the County Board’s Law and Government Committee to act they wrote:
The McHenry County community is not comfortable profiting off the backs of detained immigrants who build the country, day in and day out.  ICE is a vehicle for tear, racism, xenophobia, and internal terrorism.  Enough is Enough.
Join us Friday to show ICE and the McHenry County Board that we won’t shut up, go away, or back down.

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