Emotions ran high at Tuesday night's forum on whether the Winnebago County Jail should open its doors to federal immigration inmates.
Sheriff Gary Caruana is in negotiations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who want to house immigrants with felonies awaiting deportation in unused sections of the jail.
In exchange for housing their inmates in a segregated area of the jail, Caruana wants veto power on who is housed, the option to withdraw from the agreement in 30 days, and $80 per inmate per day.
Panel member Fred Tsao, with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, drew applause from the audience when he voiced his objections.
“One of the things that upsets me most about the immigration detention system is the way that it’s being used as a revenue generator,” Tsao said. “It’s a form of selling bodies.”
Caruana says he understands the objections from the majority of people who have packed three public forums:
"I have emotions, and I understand and feel what these folks are saying," Caruana said after the meeting. "At the same time, I have to run this business called law enforcement, and I have to be prudent with everybody's dollars."
Caruana says the jail is 25 corrections officers short of full staffing, and the federal money would easily pay for the new hires. He says he is about two weeks away from making his decision, which still would need approval from the county board.