ACLU sues El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, saying it illegally keeps suspected undocumented immigrants behind bars
Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - February 28, 2018 - Updated: February 28, 2018
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has kept people in jail “for days, weeks, even months” after they posted bond or resolved their cases — solely at the request of federal immigration officials, says a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union Colorado.
At the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Sheriff’s Office routinely detains those suspected of being undocumented immigrants without a warrant or probable cause, says the class-action lawsuit filed in 4th Judicial District Court.
The allegations appear to reveal the resurgence of a practice that many thought had fizzled in Colorado: holding immigrants without a signed order from a judge.
The Sheriff’s Office, along with others across the state, previously said it would no longer honor administrative detainer requests issued by ICE.
Kirby did not respond Tuesday to multiple phone calls and an email requesting comment on the lawsuit.
ACLU officials say ICE’s use of detainers to keep people behind bars has taken on a new guise in El Paso County: a once-lucrative contract to house federal detainees at the jail for a daily rate. Under this arrangement, when ICE suspects someone might be undocumented, it can fax or email the jail three forms that federal officials say transfer the detainees into federal custody, the ACLU said in a news release Tuesday.
But ICE does not transform a prisoner into federal custody by sending a fax or email, the lawsuit says.
Colorado Springs residents Saul Cisneros, 47, and Rut Noemi Chavez Rodriguez, 21, have been held at the jail more than three months because of these illegal practices, the lawsuit alleges.
One of Cisneros’ daughters posted his $2,000 bond Nov. 28, four days after his arrest on suspicion of two misdemeanors, but her father was not released. Jail staff told the daughter the following day that ICE had put a “hold” on her father after the payment was made, according to the lawsuit.
Days after Rodriguez’s arrest, when her church pastor asked about paying her $1,000 bond, he was told he couldn’t. Even if the bond were posted, a jail employee said, she would not be released because she, too, had an “ICE Hold,” the complaint states.
The suit names more than a half-dozen other people kept in custody at ICE’s request on similar “holds” after they completed their sentences, resolved their cases or were acquitted.
In all, 180 people were held at the jail between Jan. 1, 2017, and Jan. 23, 2018, for having “ICE holds,” says an electronic roster obtained from the Sheriff’s Office, the ACLU complaint says.
Under the sheriff’s policies, deputies must notify ICE if the jail is asked to release a “foreign-born national” on bond, and the jail will delay the release to give ICE the chance to request that they be held, the lawsuit says.
The ACLU asks the court to grant an injunction prohibiting Elder from honoring the detainer requests. The lawsuit also seeks compensation for Cisneros.
“It’s really disappointing to see the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office working so closely with ICE and basically going above and beyond what their duties are,” said Stephanie Izaguirre, a Colorado Springs immigration attorney. “They’re basically doing ICE’s job for them … It’s extremely destructive to the trust between the sheriff and the immigrant community.”
From 2008 to 2015, ICE paid the county more than $11 million to house detainees. But that revenue stream has dwindled as the jail’s population has reached record levels, The Gazette reported in November. The county took in about $7,000 through last August, records show.
Under the contract, ICE pays the Sheriff’s Office $88.72 per day for each detainee jailed. That rate was initially $62.40 but was increased last year to reflect the rising costs of housing inmates.
At the height of the agreement, in the late 2000s, then-Sheriff Terry Maketa erected a tent to house overflow prisoners and maximize profits from the contract.
“Our sheriff prior to the current one had much more aggressive policies regarding detaining immigrants and cooperating with ICE,” said Deb Walker, executive director of the Colorado Springs-based Citizens Project. “Sheriff Elder has backed away from that, which we viewed as a positive move forward. But perhaps we’re not where we need to be.”
In a 2014 letter to other sheriff’s offices across the state, the ACLU Colorado explained that local law enforcement agencies act outside of their legal authority when they honor an ICE detainer request.
Within a few months, every sheriff’s office that had received the letter said it would no longer honor the requests, the ACLU reports.
ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said the letter was provided to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in 2015 after that agency announced it would no longer participate in the 287(g) Program, a federal effort to train deputies to act as immigration officers that was discontinued amid concerns that it led to racial profiling and drained local resources.
State and federal courts across the country have found aspects of ICE’s detainer system unconstitutional, says the non-profit, Washington, D.C.-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that law enforcement officers in Massachusetts don’t have the authority to detain someone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally if that person is not facing criminal charges, the Associated Press reported.
Local law enforcement agencies have said repeatedly that they do not enforce federal immigration law.
Deputies have no way of knowing someone’s immigration status, Kirby previously said. When someone states they are foreign-born during a booking at the jail, that information is provided to ICE. The federal agency can ask the Sheriff’s Office to detain an immigrant — if it verifies that the person is undocumented and provides a signed order from a judge, Kirby said.