Linda Brito, with microphone, senior organizer for the United Workers’ Center, and Nicole Hallett, right, an attorney for the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago, answer questions at a news conference in Chicago on March 2, 2023, about a lawsuit filed by Norberto Navarro against Will County. (Vincent D. Johnson / Chicago Tribune)
Immigrants advocates and supporters rallied together in Chicago’s Southeast Side in support of Norberto Navarro on Thursday morning when his lawyer filed a lawsuit against Will County saying the county violated Navarro’s civil rights when he was detained for two months last year.
For the past year, leaders from the United Workers’ Center, also known as CTU from its Spanish translation, have been spreading the word about Navarro’s incarceration, and they organized Thursday’s rally, which was also attended by his mother and supporters from the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Everybody who supported Navarro during his detainment was there, except for Navarro himself, who watched from a car in the alley.
Navarro, a 31-year-old from Calumet City, declined to have his picture taken by the media or to be interviewed on camera, citing his uneasiness with having his image published. He later told the Tribune that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after he was released from the detention facility a year ago.
He said his PTSD hit him after he was the sole witness to a 2017 car crash that killed a pregnant mother and her three young sons in Bleecher, and that the time he spent in detainment only exacerbated it. He said the stress he feels has affected his day-to-day life.
“Anything triggers you,” he said.
Two years after witnessing the horrific Beecher accident, Navarro was taken into federal custody on a drug charge and served a sentence of 40 months in prison. Navarro, who had a green card since he was a child, his advocates have said, was under the threat of deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Attorney Nicole Hallett, of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago, speaks at a news conference in Chicago about a lawsuit filed by Norberto Navarro against Will County on March 2, 2023. (Vincent D. Johnson / Chicago Tribune)
Instead, in January 2022, he was detained by Will County under a material witness bond for two months until he testified as a witness in the criminal trial resulting from the car crash.
At the time, Navarro’s advocates argued that he had already served his sentence of 40 months in a federal custody for the drug charge and that he should not have been jailed after ICE transferred him to Will County.
Navarro said Thursday that his detainment at the Will County Adult Detention Facility was done “for no reason” and was “wrong.” He recounts having to stay in a small cell with a roommate for 22 hours a day during his 61-day detainment. He said he also had to wear a band that identified him as a misdemeanor offender.
“They locked me up for no reason and treated me worse than the guy they were prosecuting,” Navarro said.
Sean Woulfe, the man who caused the car crash, was given a $250,000 bond. Navarro’s bond was set at $1 million.
Navarro says his lawsuit is to prevent others from having to go through the same experience. “We are doing this for everyone,” he said. The lawsuit seeks compensation for his damages, but his lawyer did not give a figure at the rally.
Navarro’s lawsuit says Will County broke Illinois law when he was moved from ICE custody to custody in Will County. The lawsuit states that the county was working with ICE — which the county denies — and it provided emails sent between ICE and Will County. One email says Will County might not be able to return Navarro to ICE because “sanctuary nonsense laws have passed (in Illinois).”
Linda Brito, senior organizer for the United Workers’ Center, speaks at a news conference in Chicago about a lawsuit filed by Norberto Navarro against Will County on March 2, 2023. (Vincent D. Johnson / Chicago Tribune)
The lawsuit alleges that Will County did not have a right to hold him, and that there was no charge filed against him. It also talks about his experience while in detainment, where he spent nearly $1,000 on commissary expenses and phone calls to his family.
At the rally, Navarro’s lawyer Nicole Hallett, the director of the immigrant rights clinic at the University of Chicago, said, “We hope that this lawsuit will send a clear message to Will County and every other county in the state that they won’t get away with flagrantly violating the law.”
Hallett said she took the case pro bono after hearing from the United Workers’ Center that Navarro was in custody. The group’s senior organizer, Linda Brito, said the center’s community is why Navarro is no longer in custody.
“It wasn’t Illinois government agencies, or law enforcement agencies that freed (Navarro). It was our community,” Brito said. “These Illinois law enforcement agencies need to follow community because it is important that we send this message that they will protect the immigrant community.”
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow put out a statement on March 22, 2022, a day before Navarro testified in the trial and his subsequent release date, saying that his office put in the paperwork to award Navarro, a permanent resident, a U-Visa because he had a “harrowing experience” as being a witness to the 2017 car crash.
Hallett confirmed that, but said the visa, like Navarro’s release, only came from public pressure, including interference from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
Navarro was in the process of deportation in 2021 and was set to go to court for it. He was set to be released from a New Mexico detention facility after serving time for a drug related offense. One day before his release, Will County was able to transfer Navarro to its custody.
Will County officials said they had no further comments on the lawsuit.
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