Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli’s message to President-elect Joe Biden: Defund ICE, halt deportations for a year

Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli joined a coalition of colleagues across the U.S. on Wednesday calling on President-elect Joe Biden to immediately begin a one-year pause in deportations and defund the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

About 25 public defender’s offices rolled out a far-reaching 10-point plan to undo the footprint President Donald Trump’s administration has left on U.S. immigrants during his term. In addition to the one-year deportation moratorium and demand to reallocate ICE funding to causes such as family unification, the coalition wants to end immigration detention, fund a universal court representation program for immigrants facing deportation and abolish criminal carve-outs in the path to legal residency status.

“As public defenders, we know that government-funded representation is crucial to protect the rights of individuals in criminal proceedings,” Campanelli wrote in a statement. “Likewise, we recognize that noncitizens — like everyone else — have rights and that government-funded representation in removal proceedings is necessary to protect those rights. Our goal is to advocate for universal representation until the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that counsel must be afforded to every individual whom the government wants to remove from the country.”

Sign up for The Spin to get the top stories in politics delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.

Campanelli, who was first appointed in 2015 and is seeking reappointment to the office, has been an outspoken critic of what she has called the “broken” criminal justice system. She leads one of the nation’s largest public defender’s offices that uses government funds for immigration court representation. Its immigration unit was launched in September with the help of public and private dollars so that such defendants are not beholden to private lawyers. More than $350,000 of the 2021 Cook County budget goes toward the unit.

The Trump administration over the last four years has imposed some hard-line policies that have been challenged in court. The immigration policies included multiple attempts to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, leading to years of insecurity for its nearly 650,000 participants while it was thrown in legal limbo, as well as separating families attempting to cross into the U.S.

After President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win, Chicago-area immigrants spoke to the Tribune with a tone of cautious optimism. But, like Campanelli, they said they want to hold Biden accountable to his campaign promises. More than half a million immigrations without legal permission to live in the U.S. reside in Illinois, according to a 2017 study.

Raha Jorjani of the Immigration Representation Unit of the Alameda County public defender’s office in California said the coalition has met with the Biden-Kamala Harris transition team and gotten “very positive feedback.”

Biden has promised to overhaul Trump-era immigration in his first 100 days — while maintaining border screening and returning to former President Barack Obama’s policy of expelling immigrants who have been convicted of a crime while not having legal status. He said he will immediately revive DACA, cease Trump’s asylum restrictions, end a “public charge rule” denying visas and permanent residency to immigrants on Medicaid and other government programs and stop funding for new wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition, about 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal permission but who contribute to the country economically will have a path to citizenship under Biden’s plans.

ayin@chicagotribune.com