On Wednesday, March 23, Norberto Navarro was released from the Will County Adult Detention Facility after being detained since January.
Navarro was released because his detention was against state law. The Illinois Way Forward Act, which came into effect on January 1, prohibits local law enforcement from carrying out immigration operations, making arrests, facilitating transfers, and holding detainees.
His attorney, Nicole Hallett, thinks this could not have happened without the support and protests of Navarro’s community. “The reason we thought he was going to be transferred back to ICE was because Will County made an agreement with ICE that they would do that. And so it seemed likely that that’s what was going to happen. Will County did not expect such attention.”
Navarro, thirty, testified that day as a witness in a trial about a fatal crash in Beecher, Illinois involving the death of a pregnant mother and her three children in 2017. Navarro called the police and tried to rescue the family.
Two years after the accident, Navarro, a U.S. permanent resident, was convicted for a drug charge in Texas, near El Paso. After he completed his forty-month sentence, he was transferred to a different detention facility in New Mexico, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began deportation proceedings. Then the Illinois State’s Attorney ordered his transfer to the Will County Adult Detention Facility as a material witness for the 2017 accident in Beecher.
He was supposed to testify on March 22, but his testimony was postponed at the last minute. People protested outside just like they did on March 8. The next day he was released.
“It’s the most amazing thing in the world to be back with my family,” said Navarro in a statement on Wednesday. “I’m so happy that I can hug them and talk to them. Right now, the most important thing is spending time with my family, and especially my daughter. I’m really thankful to Centro de Trabajadores Unidos and my community, for fighting not only for me but also for others in similar situations.”
More than twenty Illinois elected officials also called on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to enforce the Illinois Way Forward Act/TRUST Act on behalf of Navarro.
“It is clear that Will County didn’t know anyone was watching,” said Sarah Southey, legal clinic coordinator at Centro de Trabajadores Unidos. “It definitely wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the organizing that our community did.”
Navarro is currently obtaining his U visa which grants citizenship to those who have suffered significant mental or physical abuse from a criminal activity. According to Navarro’s mother Aida Navarro and his attorneys who spoke to the Weekly, he suffered significant trauma after witnessing the children and mother suffer inside the car moments before their deaths.
“The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office thought they could get away with harming someone in our community because he is an immigrant, but we fought so that Illinois sanctuary laws that our immigrant communities advocated for are upheld,” said Ana Guajardo, director of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, the organization behind Navarro’s release.
In a previous interview with the Weekly, Hallett said this is the first time the Illinois Way Forward Act has been invoked in court to request someone’s release. “I hope that other counties and sheriff’s offices and State’s Attorney’s offices see this and think that if ever this kind of situation were to happen in their county, they’re going to have to comply with the law.”
Alma Campos is the Weekly’s immigration editor. She last wrote about Norberto Navarro’s detention in violation of Illinois state ban.