JOLIET – City officials at a meeting on immigration issues this week repeatedly said Joliet police are doing nothing more or less than they had in the past.
The official police policy, Chief Brian Benton said, is that police do not get involved in immigration matters, although a couple of people in the audience suggested otherwise.
“At no time has the Joliet Police Department been asked to or proactively enforced immigration laws,” Benton said at the start of the meeting. “We don’t have either the resources or the training to do the job of ICE officials.”
ICE, the acronym for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was one of the big topics of the Wednesday meeting that attracted several hundred people to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Benton and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk both said that Joliet does not plan to take on the job of ICE.
But they also stressed that they would do nothing to stand in the way of ICE.
“I believe it’s a mistake for the city of Joliet to say we are going to openly defy the federal government and we’re not going to follow the law,” O’Dekirk said.
O’Dekirk said Joliet does not intend to become a sanctuary city, saying it could bring unwanted attention. The mayor pointed to the weekend raids by ICE in Chicago and said its sanctuary city status did nothing to stop the federal government.
Joliet’s position could be tested by President Trump’s new version of his executive order on immigration, which he said in a Thursday news conference would be filed next week.
The community meeting, which doubled as a special meeting of the City Council, was called because of concerns that the executive order would turn Joliet police into immigration agents.
“A lot of people think that the executive order makes local law enforcement immigration officials. This is not the case,” said Moises Barraza, an immigration attorney at the meeting.
But, Barraza said, the previous order did carry the threat that local communities could lose federal funds if they do not enforce immigration laws.
Benton said Thursday that communities across the country are following the litigation over the executive order to gauge the potential effect.
“If President Trump follows up on his threat to withhold federal money from cities that don’t enforce immigration law, the cities could be hit hard,” Benton said.
He added that Joliet police would not refuse to make an arrest on an ICE warrant, just as it would not ignore a warrant from the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration.
But during ordinary police activity, immigration status should not be questioned, he said.
Benton, however, said that an arrestee’s fingerprints typically are processed once they go to Will County Jail. The county, he said, sends fingerprints to the FBI, and that information could be shared with ICE.
The main purpose of the meeting, O’Dekirk said, was to get out the word on what Joliet’s position is amid the many questions rising about the future of immigration enforcement.
He told the gathering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, “We’re hoping that this will reverberate with people, and they understand exactly what the city of Joliet’s position is.”