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Man held in ICE custody at McHenry County Jail released after ACLU Illinois filed lawsuit

A holding cell is seen in McHenry County Jail in Woodstock in an undated photo.
A holding cell is seen in McHenry County Jail in Woodstock in an undated photo.

A man formerly held in ICE custody at the McHenry County Jail has been released following a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal district court by the ACLU of Illinois, American Civil Liberties Union and Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP on behalf of Souleymane Dembele, sought his temporary release because of what they said was a threat to his health posed by conditions in the jail that promote the spread of COVID-19.

The lawsuit was filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim and Dan Sitkie, chief of corrections at the McHenry County Jail in Woodstock, also were named in the lawsuit.

“This is a truly great day for Mr. Dembele, his wife and his children – who lived each day in fear that his life was at risk in the McHenry County Jail,” legal director for the ACLU of Illinois Nusrat Jahan Choudhury said in a statement. “On the day we filed this suit for Mr. Dembele, a senior ICE official told members of Congress the agency did not plan to release any more immigrants.

“ICE clearly is not doing enough to ensure that immigration detention does not amount to a death sentence for vulnerable people. Immigration detention continues to unnecessarily put immigrants, facility staff and the surrounding community at risk.”

Through an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service, McHenry County earns $95 a day for each ICE detainee housed at the jail.

Dembele had been held on alleged civil immigration violations. After the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU was notified by the federal government that Dembele would be released, according to a news release. The other man who the ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of, Muhammad Taufiq Butt, still is being detained, also on alleged civil immigration violations.

“Souleymane, husband to a lawful resident and father to three U.S. citizen children, suffers from pre-existing medical conditions,” the ACLU said in a statement. “He was held by ICE at the McHenry County Jail, where conditions put him at risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.”

Dembele, who has diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, has previously called being in the jail during the COVID-19 crisis “a nightmare.”

“I have not been able to sleep or care for myself because I am constantly afraid of being exposed to the virus,” Dembele said in a statement. “The conditions are not sanitary, and more than 60 people are regularly crammed into a common area, sharing tables and chairs. There is truly no social distancing.”

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU Illinois, said in a phone interview that Dembele has been released for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s clearly and obviously a recognition that this is a threat to his health,” Yohnka said.

Sgt. Aimee Knop, spokeswoman for the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email to the Northwest Herald that the office has been served the lawsuit and is reviewing it with legal counsel.

“We do not provide comments on pending litigation,” she said.

She said that it is not the sheriff’s office’s role, nor position, to discuss or decide if ICE detainees are to remain in their custody.

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