Connect Responds to Sheriff Downey’s Critiques

In a June 2019 meeting of the Kankakee County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee, County Sheriff Mike Downey said that Connect had offered “an insult to every veteran who has served our country” by stating that federal administration is warring against immigrants. Downey also accused Connect of wanting violent criminals released: “If they really want people who commit sexual assault against 5-year-olds to get out of prison, then come out and say it…if they do, shame on them.” The following is Connect’s official response.

Kankakee County residents deserve better than the kind of sophomoric sensationalism displayed by Sheriff Downey in this article. Clearly no one wants violent criminals released from prison. Just as clearly, the Sheriff would rather talk about something- anything- else than the practice of holding in his jail scores of undocumented folks he describes as non criminals, many who have been in the United States for ten or twenty years contributing to their community with no infraction other than being undocumented- a $50 misdemeanor.

Sheriff Downey also suggests that dissent and the reference to the war on immigrants is an insult to veterans. This kind of faux indignation is another tired and familiar tactic, and as practiced here is transparent in the extreme. In fact our right to question authority is what defines our democracy. This attempt to present dissent as somehow disrespectful to veterans is clearly an attempt to avoid accountability. Would the Sheriff also claim that veterans were offended by the war on drugs terminology? For those suffering in overcrowded border detention centers it matters little what we choose to call it, but conditions reportedly continue to degrade. Indeed experts now say many immigrant detention facilities in the United States fit the definition of concentration camps. Sheriff Downey admits that a multitude of undocumented immigrants have been held at Jerome Combs who do not fit his definition of criminal. One we know of was a family and businessman active in his church and community employing dozens. Instead of attempting to shift the narrative, Sheriff Downey should do the right thing and stop balancing the county budget on the backs of folks who have lived and enriched their community for years with no infraction other than lack of documentation.

Sheriff Downey has suggested he is only following national immigration laws by jailing these people and washes his hands of any culpability, stating activists should direct their efforts to Washington DC. Connect Kankakee is working with our elected officials to do just that, meeting with Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, as well as our own Congresswoman Kelly, in an ongoing relationship. Sheriff Downey has discussed his relationship with ICE leadership in Washington, but we are unaware of any initiative of his on broader immigration reform with lawmakers. In fact jailing those detained by ICE at our own Jerome Combs detention center is a choice the Sheriff makes to put dollars into county coffers.

Sheriff Downey states that he and Kankakee County Board Chairman Wheeler have offered to help activists change immigration laws but “not once have we gotten a call back saying they want to work together”. As recently as this April 27 and as documented in the Daily Journal Connect Kankakee and other groups hosted an immigration symposium in Kankakee attended by both of these elected officials. Sheriff Downey’s sincerity in outreach to activists must be questioned when he uses a public forum to deny this productive dialog.

Connect Kankakee continues to urge residents who share our concerns to make your voices heard at the national as well as local level. Kankakee has become known as the place where ICE operates, and this will negatively affect everything from the fast approaching census participation to attracting people who are hired at the many new area jobs to actually relocate to our community. Together we can build a more welcoming Kankakee County.

Daily Journal article on this story: “Sheriff responds to immigration critics”