Local Editorials

Our View: No 'Trust' in McHenry County's enforcement of new law

McHenry County jail.[]

Niceforo Macedo-Hernandez is not the most sympathetic character in the drama surrounding the new Illinois Trust Act in McHenry County.

Macedo-Hernandez, 46, of Crystal Lake, is a Mexican national who has lived in McHenry County for 22 years. In the past three years, he twice has been arrested on domestic battery charges. After his first arrest, in 2014, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of battery.

He most recently was arrested Aug. 8 and charged with domestic battery, a misdemeanor, after an incident in which police said he grabbed his wife’s wrists, causing cuts and redness.

If you’re living in a foreign country and are of questionable immigration status, being arrested certainly creates a risk that you may be deported. In fact, many McHenry County residents probably would say you should be.

But the laws of our country also say that a person is innocent until proved guilty, and Illinois’ new Trust Act prohibits local and state police from searching, arresting or detaining a person solely because of immigration status. 

A McHenry County judge has set bond for Macedo-Hernandez, but Sheriff Bill Prim refused to release him. He declined even after a judge’s order that the inmate’s family be allowed to post bail. Prim essentially decided to hold Macedo-Hernandez without bail because of his questionable immigration status, saying that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has requested he be held in jail.

Macedo-Hernandez and two other McHenry County residents are now suing Prim for refusing to follow the Trust Act. McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally is backing Prim, claiming in part that the state’s Trust Act is unconstitutional because it is pre-empted by federal immigration law and that legislators can’t tell elected officers what laws to enforce.

Prim has refused to speak publicly about his decision, only releasing a written statement.

“We have a public act less than a week [old] with a sweeping effect that has yet to be interpreted by any court,” the statement read. “Our objective at this point is to move slowly and cautiously with public safety as our foremost consideration, consistent with constitutional responsibilities.”

When Macedo-Hernandez’s attorneys finally got in front of a judge Sept. 5, it was clear Prim wasn’t waiting for a judge’s opinion. Macedo-Hernandez had already been transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kenneally had to ask Prim to bring Macedo-Hernandez back to comply with a court order for a scheduled hearing on the issue.

McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer then declined to rule on the issue, saying he did not believe he had the jurisdiction to order the sheriff to release anyone – although judges would seem to routinely do that through setting bond.

Prim and Kenneally stand apart on this issue from their peers in the rest of the collar counties and Cook County. So far, it appears that McHenry County is the only one of the state’s 102 counties where the Trust Act has been a problem.

Swift action is needed to bring clarity to this issue. However, the first hearing on the three residents’ lawsuit is set for Dec. 8. Meantime, a man who has lived here 22 years and has a family that depended upon his income is now in federal custody in Wisconsin and could well be deported.

Some local police, who often interact with people who may be of questionable immigration status, say they have no interest in enforcing federal immigration laws when they are trying to keep communities safe.

If Prim does not have to follow the Trust Act when he decides whom to hold in jail, then there’s nothing stopping sheriff’s deputies from also searching or arresting people because of their immigration status.

Until there’s some resolution, any trust that Illinois’ law sought to build between law enforcement and the immigrant community will be on hold – in McHenry County, at least.