Colorado sheriffs change policy in holding undocumented immigrants after ACLU letter | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado sheriffs change policy in holding undocumented immigrants after ACLU letter

Erin Fenner

— Many Colorado sheriffs are re-evaluating their policy to hold inmates with questionable citizen status past their legal release date after the ACLU sent a letter in April highlighting the illegality of the practice.

Most sheriffs honor requests by the federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security, to detain inmates who the agency wants to investigate.

At press time, ICE was not available for comment.

ICE requests up to 48-hour holds on individuals who have been booked and fingerprinted. But the ACLU — citing magistrate decisions in Oregon, Washington and other counties across the country — said these requests are not a federal command and, if practiced by law enforcement, are actually unconstitutional.

"For many years, ICE has issued these documents called ICE detainers," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU legal director of Colorado. "I think probably most every Colorado sheriff has looked at these and regarded these as a mandate from a superior authority. The forms used to have language that supported the idea that it was a mandate or command. But, language on the forms has changed in the last few years. ICE has started to admit, mostly quietly, that they are requests, not commands."

The ACLU sent a letter to sheriffs across the state, stating that ICE detainers were illegal and asking for a response by Tuesday. According to the letter, ICE requested detainers on more than 800 U.S. citizens and more than 28,000 legal permanent residents between 2008 and 2012.

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Sheriffs in Rio Blanco and Routt counties, and across Colorado, re-evaluated their policy regarding ICE detainer requests and said they would not honor the ICE requests anymore.

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz agrees with the ACLU's stance against the ICE detainer requests.

"Law enforcement agencies around the nation felt — I think maybe they didn't understand the terminology — a detainer was equal to a warrant," he said. "Regulations are not law — not criminal law. You can't hold somebody without criminal charges."

Unlike most sheriff’s offices, Moffat County isn't even in a position to accept ICE requests, Jantz said.

"We don't hold onto detainers because we're a custodial facility” for ICE, Jantz said. "We are a holding facility. We're a whole different animal. We don't hold on ICE detainers and administrative warrants, anyway."

Instead, the Moffat County Safety Center is contracted with the ICE to hold on to inmates who already are in the custody of the federal agency.

"We're an under-72-hour hold facility. They have a processing center in Craig," he said. "There's a difference between detainees and inmates. We do not hold under detainers. I don't hold under those because there's not probable cause, affidavits and no due process to those administrative hearings."

That means ICE inmates pass through Moffat County, but they are in custody of ICE, not Moffat County, Jantz said.

Routt County did comply with ICE requests in the past, though. But after reviewing the ACLU letter, Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said his office will stop holding ICE inmates. Silverstein said that there were at least 22 ICE requests filed in Routt County.

"In the past, I think most sheriffs have always honored that request. Once we got that letter, we began to analyze that more closer. The wording in those detainer holds are a little confusing," he said. "We all agreed we needed to address that issue. At this point in time, we are no longer honoring those detainers."

This problem will need to be solved at a national level, Wiggins said.

"It behooves the federal government to come up with a different process that doesn't infringe on this Fourth Amendment right," he said. "We obviously want to help ICE. We can't violate somebody's civil rights in doing that."

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.