Times-Call (Longmont)

Sheriff can cooperate with ICE despite state law

- By Saja Hindi shindi@denverpost.com

A Teller County District judge ruled Wednesday that the county sheriff isn't violating Colorado law by allowing his deputies to conduct immigratio­n enforcemen­t through an agreement with the federal government.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado sued Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, asserting that the sheriff's office participat­ion in what's called a 287(g) agreement violates the state constituti­on and a law passed in 2019, which limits local law enforcemen­t cooperatio­n with U.S. Immigratio­ns and Customs Enforcemen­t. The law prevents immigrants who are jailed from being held beyond their release dates solely at the request of ICE for civil immigratio­n arrest — a signed judge's warrant would be required.

But Teller County District Court Judge Scott Sells ruled that deputies who were trained by ICE through the 287(g) agreement — four in Teller County — are “de facto federal officers when performing functions as Designated Immigratio­n Officers under the 287(g) agreement.” He stated in his ruling that the sheriff can legally enter into this type of agreement without violating state law.

And, “I find it significan­t that neither the Sheriff or Jail Commander have authority to enforce immigratio­n law or supervise the TCSO deputy when he or she is acting as a DIO under the 287(g) Jail Enforcemen­t Model,” Sells wrote.

The ACLU disagrees and plans to take the case to the Court of Appeals, continuing the years-long legal case.

“We are disappoint­ed that the trial court upheld the Teller County Sheriff's 287g program,” Mark Silverstei­n, ACLU of Colorado legal director, said in a written statement. “We remain steadfast in our claim that the Sheriff's program of enforcing federal immigratio­n law violates the Colorado Constituti­on as well as a Colorado statute.”

Neither the sheriff's office nor an attorney representi­ng Mikesell returned requests for comment Wednesday. Teller County is the only county in the state operating a 287(g) agreement.

The Teller County case is the first in the country concerning the legality of the 287(g) agreement to go to trial, according to the ACLU.

“Under current Colorado law, in all the other counties of the state, an inmate who ICE might be interested in can post bail on their state criminal charges and that person is released from the jail,” Silverstei­n said in an interview. “And yes, ICE can still apprehend them outside the jail or in the community. That's the situation that's going on all over the state except in Teller County.”

“The state law doesn't give the sheriff the authority to say, ‘I'm not going to release people when they post bail because I signed an agreement with ICE — an agreement that he doesn't have the authority to enter into,” Silverstei­n said.

The judge saw it differentl­y, writing in his order that three people in Teller County jail who were arrested on immigratio­n violations were served their warrants within six hours of posting bond.

However, they continued being held in the jail until ICE transporte­d them to another facility, one of the people was jailed for 17 days. Mikesell submitted his request to join the 287(g) agreement in 2018, according to the court.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office previously had a 287(g) agreement but ended it in 2015. However, the sheriff's office continued to hold people in jail after they had posted bond or their cases had been resolved at the request of ICE. A district court ruled the practice unconstitu­tional in 2018 after an ACLU classactio­n lawsuit.

In his January testimony in Teller County, Mikesell said he applied for the program because of an increase in crime, including organized criminal activity by out-of-state cartels and illegal grow operations.

“He started the GOT (Get Out of Teller) program to scare or influence drug dealers and illegal immigrants to leave Teller,” the judge's order stated.

One of the former deputies who now works for ICE, Laura Hammond, said in her testimony that if she found out anyone in the jail wasn't a citizen, she would “start an investigat­ive process to determine ‘alienage and deportabil­ity,'” according to the order. A person having been born in a foreign country was enough to trigger an investigat­ion. An order to detain any inmate would have to be authorized by someone from ICE, though they were not signed by a judge, before being served.

The judge noted in his ruling that the legislatur­e did not specifical­ly prohibit sheriffs from entering into 287(g) agreements — a point of contention that arose when the law was drafted in 2019. But the ACLU says the agreements contradict state law.

These agreements have long been criticized as harmful to individual­s and families and that they are costly to taxpayers at the benefit of ICE. A 2009 University of North Carolina School of Law and the ACLU of North Carolina study found that “287(g) encourages, or at the very least tolerates, racial profiling and baseless stereotypi­ng, resulting in the harassment of local residents and the isolation of an increasing­ly marginaliz­ed community.”

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