FILE - Henry Lucero, ICE

Henry Lucero, with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, talks in Phoenix in 2018.

More than 1,000 "criminal aliens" were released by law enforcement in Illinois’ largest county last fiscal year, something federal immigration officials said makes it more likely people will be victimized.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say in fiscal 2019, officials in Cook County released 1,070 criminal aliens despite requests by the federal agency seeking notification.

ICE Acting Deputy Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Henry Lucero said the “most concerning issue about working in an area [like Illinois] that refuses to cooperate with ICE is not only that we do not know which criminal aliens are being released from custody, but the public doesn’t know either,” in a news release.

Last summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Keeping Illinois Families Together Act, which prohibits local law enforcement from coordinating with ICE. However, the act does not provide for any penalties for law enforcement that do coordinate with federal immigration authorities.

“Because ICE does not have access to standard Illinois law enforcement databases, it’s difficult to accurately account for all the aliens who have been arrested, released and committed additional crimes,” Lucero said. “However, with the limited information ICE can verify, we know that police resources are being wasted, more people are being victimized, and it’s a matter of time until something more significant happens.”

ICE provided examples of some of the people they believe are in the country illegally and are suspected of committing crimes.

“Rasheed Abass, a 50-year-old South African national, was arrested in June for indecent exposure,” ICE detailed. “In July, he was arrested for assault. ICE lodged detainers after both arrests. His current location is unknown.”

Another example ICE provided shows someone being released despite an active immigration detainer.

“On Dec. 3, 2018, ICE lodged a detainer with the Cook County Jail on Rokas Ablacinskas, a 22-year-old citizen of Lithuania, following his arrest for attempted murder, aggravated battery of a victim over the age of 60 and aggravated battery in a public place,” the federal agency said. “Without notifying ICE, the Cook County Jail released Ablacinskas Sept. 17, 2019, and he remains at large in the community.”

State Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, said she supports the state law prohibiting local and state police from assisting certain federal immigration authorities.

“When I saw the headline, I said ‘good, we’re doing our job’,” Ramirez said. “It’s about the father or the mother who is doing everything that they possibly can to provide for their children and now has been separated. We’re not going to make [ICE’s] job any easier. I certainly am proud of that.”

State Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, said the policy doesn’t put law-abiding citizens first.

“It looks to me like we’re doing our very best to protect criminals that ought to be behind bars in jail or back in their country of origin,” Miller said.

Ramirez said her uncle lives in the shadows after he tried to become legal in what she called a “broken immigration system.”

Miller said he understands the plight of immigrants. His son-in-law immigrated legally from Nigeria and is now an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Cleveland Clinic at Case Western University.

“When he first applied to come to America he got turned down, but guess what he did, he went home, he got in line and went through the process,” he said.

Miller said Illinois’ policies prohibiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities reward criminal behavior and hurts the state’s ability to secure federal grants.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.