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El Paso County asks Colorado Supreme Court to overturn ICE injunction

Author: Lance Benzel, The Gazette - March 24, 2018 - Updated: April 6, 2018

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El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office has followed through on a promise to appeal a 4th Judicial District judge’s ruling that bars Sheriff Bill Elder from holding suspected undocumented immigrants solely at the request of federal immigration authorities.

The county on Friday asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn a preliminary injunction issued by El Paso County District Judge Eric Bentley.

That injunction, issued Monday, prevents El Paso County from honoring detention requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for inmates who are otherwise eligible for release.

“The practice being enjoined by Judge Bentley’s Order is an important public safety matter which has been the subject of conflicting legal interpretations in multiple jurisdictions and requires additional judicial analysis by the Colorado Supreme Court,” El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose said in a written statement.

The county previously said it will abide by Bentley’s ruling pending further judicial review.

The county’s direct appeal to the state’s highest court – made under what’s known as Appellate Rule 21 – represents the ratcheting up of a battle over how far local law enforcement agencies like sheriffs may go in assisting ICE with immigration enforcement. The El Paso County Board of Commissioners cleared the way for further litigation over the issue on Friday, Rose said in the statement.

The dispute reached a head last month, when the ACLU of Colorado sued on behalf of two El Paso County jail inmates who were denied release on bond solely because ICE asked that they be held. Both inmates have since been released, jail records show.

The civil liberties group alleged in its Feb. 27 complaint that the Sheriff’s Office has illegally 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 – arguing a constitutional violation that Bentley said would be likely to prevail in court.

“We maintain that the El Paso County Sheriff’s policies exceeded his authority under Colorado law and that using overburdened local resources for federal immigration enforcement does nothing to promote public safety,” said ACLU of Colorado attorney Arash Jahanian.

The county said Bentley’s order places the sheriff in “an impossible position” that will force his office to violate a 2008 intergovernmental service agreement it made with ICE to house ICE detainees.

Rose previously criticized ICE for failing to provide legal support to the county, as the agency agreed to do under the 2008 agreement.

An ICE spokesman this week declined to comment on Rose’s remarks, instead releasing a statement of support encouraging El Paso County to challenge Bentley’s injunction to a higher court.

Lance Benzel, The Gazette

Lance Benzel, The Gazette