The facts of the case are tragic. While driving a 2002 Dodge Neon last year, Saul Chavez allegedly hit McCann, a pedestrian, ran him over and dragged him 200 feet before trying to flee. He is charged with aggravated DUI involving a death, reckless homicide and leaving the scene of an accident.
In November, Chavez, who has addresses in Albany Park and Mexico, paid $25,000 to make bail after spending five months in jail awaiting trial. He hasn’t been seen since.
The McCann family is angry that the county didn’t honor a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement request to detain Chavez so agents could pick him up for deportation proceedings. In September, the County Board voted to stop honoring such requests, which can keep people in jail an extra 48 hours, or even longer on the weekend.
On the surface, that may sound like a wrong-headed policy. If only the county hadn’t changed its rules, the thinking goes, Chavez never could have fled.
In fact, Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider (R-Bartlett) wants the county to start honoring “detainer” requests once again in cases involving felony charges.
But the dots just don’t connect. ICE is not some kind of backstop for the criminal courts. If local judges set bails too low and the wrong people are about to walk out of prison, ICE can’t swoop in and keep them behind bars. What ICE does is deport people if they are in the United States illegally.
Would justice have been better served had ICE deported Chavez to Mexico? That’s where many people suspect he is anyway.
The county is willing to honor ICE detainers — which legally are simply informal requests — if ICE indemnifies the county against lawsuits by people who turn out to have been wrongfully held. Without that indemnity, Cook County could be held liable if someone were injured in a jail fight, for example, while being mistakenly held behind bars.
And ICE can always obtain official warrants for people they really want to pick up.
In retrospect, it’s clear Cook County Judge Ramon Ocasio III set a bail that was too low to ensure that Chavez, who had a previous felony DUI conviction, would show up for his trial. But trying to pin the blame on county commissioners just doesn’t wash.