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Contact NIJC Communications Director Tara Tidwell Cullen at (312) 833-2967 or by email.

Immigrant rights activists, public health advocates, and community allies gathered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Chicago Field Office today to demand that Director Sylvie Renda release, not transfer, the nearly 30 individuals who remain in immigration detention at McHenry County and Kankakee County jails in Illinois.

The state’s last ICE contracts will end in February as a result of last year’s passage of the Illinois Way Forward Act. Following a press conference, advocates attempted to deliver a petition signed by nearly 3,000 community members demanding the Biden administration release immigrants from Illinois jails, rather than transfer them to detention centers out of state. Such transfers would pose a public health risk during a COVID-10 surge, and further prolong the anguish of family separation and horrifying conditions already faced by people in ICE custody. The advocates were not permitted access to the ICE field office building with the petition.

On Friday, seven Illinois members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson with similar demands.

During the press conference, two people who had spent time in ICE custody in Illinois and were recently released shared their stories:

Alejandro Ortiz, who was released from ICE detention in McHenry County Jail last month, spoke about the conditions he experienced and that others continue to endure there. “In McHenry you can’t receive the mental health you need. If you feel any kind of mental issue, they only give you a pill to make you sleep. If you are feeling faint in your body, if you are sick, you have to say that you practically are dying. If you say you are not that sick to be in bed, they make you wait. … There are so many people who need help. I know we are humans, we all make mistakes, but that is not reason to put us in that kind of place. Especially when COVID is among us, the situation complicates much more. I can’t even describe the feelings we had there, especially when we were in quarantine.”

Angela Osorio, a leader with Organized Communities Against Deportation who was recently released from a detention center in Kansas shared her story: “I was detained in McHenry for six months. One day, out of nowhere at 2 a.m., I was woken up by some guards and transferred to Kansas. I don’t know anyone in Kansas; I don’t have family in Kansas. I have three children, and this was the most traumatizing time of my life. We came to this country looking for a better life, we are all human, no one should be treated that way.”

Alejandro and Angela were joined by a coalition of community organizers, faith organizations, and legal service providers, who have been working together to advocate for releases and to ensure support is available for individuals upon their release.

“Although we are here demanding releases in Illinois, we want to make it clear that our demands are not for our state alone,” said Veronica Castro, deputy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “This is an opportunity for President Biden and his administration to truly separate themselves from their predecessors: Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has the ability to release, not transfer people nationwide and empty the detention centers, and President Biden can take executive action to ensure the detention centers remain empty.”

“Advocates for immigrants detained in Kankakee and McHenry were given 10 days to build a case for release. This situation is backwards,” said Dr. Ed Pratt, Executive Director of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants. “ICE and the federal government should be answering the questions: Why are these people being detained? Why are they in jails? In every one of the world's great religious traditions there is an admonition to care for the stranger. Jail is not the answer.”

“NIJC has represented people in ICE detention in Illinois for over a decade, and the legal analysis here is not difficult. Field Director Renda has the prosecutorial discretion and the authority to grant the release of everyone still detained at McHenry and Kankakee County Jails,” said Lisa Chun, a senior attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center. “The people detained at Kankakee and McHenry should be given the opportunity to reside with their loved ones and communities while they continue their immigration court proceedings. A robust community stands ready to support them in doing so.”

“As public health professionals and advocates, we believe the present U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies violate basic human rights,” said Susan Avila, a nurse and public health practitioner representing the Collaborative for Health Equity Cook County. “The failure of ICE to treat detainees with dignity and respect endangers all who live in Illinois and across our nation. The health of ICE detainees, staff, and the general public are linked. The demand for the full release of those being currently detained at the Kankakee and McHenry County facilities is essential to a wider public health response to the spread of COVID in the community and the already-stretched health care system. Public health experts agree the full release of the detainees is a critical intervention to slow the spread of coronavirus.”

“Last year the Illinois General Assembly, through the hard work of communities and advocates across the state, passed the Illinois Way Forward Act. This was a huge win for our communities, who fought hard to protect our members from the harms of the detention to deportation pipeline,” said Fasika Alem, programs director at United African Organization. “We call on ICE, we call on Sylvie Renda, to release all those detained at Kankakee and McHenry facilities. They all have loved ones waiting out here. Furthermore, we call on Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden to stop harming our communities and end the use of immigration detention. By relying on a racist criminal legal system that already explicitly targets Black and Brown communities, and by continuing to prioritize enforcement, ICE continues to disproportionately impact communities of color.”

Watch a full recording of the press conference here, via Organized Communities Against Deportations on Facebook


Media contacts:

Tara Tidwell Cullen, NIJC,, 312-833-2967
Natalie Casal, OCAD,, 786-208-6432
Brandon Lee, ICIRR,, 773-259-5288
Karina Donayre, ICDI,, 630-747-5626