Colorado SpringsNewsPublic Safety

Judge: El Paso County sheriff can’t detain illegal immigrants solely at ICE’s request

Author: Lance Benzel, The Gazette - March 22, 2018 - Updated: March 22, 2018

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

An El Paso County judge has dealt a blow to Sheriff Bill Elder’s practice of jailing suspected illegal immigrants solely at the request of federal immigration authorities.

In a 13-page ruling, 4th Judicial District Judge Eric Bentley granted a preliminary injunction Monday, ordering the Sheriff’s Office to honor bonds for two ACLU of Colorado clients who were held at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) but who otherwise were eligible for release.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado hailed the decision as a victory, saying the ruling puts Elder on notice that the practice of honoring ICE detention requests in the absence of a judge’s authorization is unconstitutional.

“Judge Bentley’s ruling confirmed that Colorado sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law and that when individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, Colorado law requires that they be released,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a written statement.

The ACLU sued on behalf of two inmates Feb. 27, arguing 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.

El Paso County’s embrace of such detention requests has put the county at the forefront of the ongoing debate involving immigration enforcement.

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office intends to appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court but will abide by the ruling pending further review, said county spokesman Dave Rose.

Rose initially said one of the ACLU plaintiffs had been released, but he later said both of the plaintiffs still were in jail. They are the only two jail inmates who were held solely on an ICE detainer at the time of the ruling, he said.

“They’ll be walked to the front door just like everybody else is,” Rose said. “If there’s an ICE agent waiting in the parking lot when you come out, that’s another problem, but it’s not our problem.”

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Natalie Sosa declined to comment.

In ordering a preliminary injunction, Bentley ruled that the ACLU of Colorado has a “substantial probability of success” in its lawsuit, which also seeks monetary compensation on behalf of the two inmates who were held despite being eligible for bond.

Rose said the county will press in court to make the case that the sheriff has legal authority to honor ICE detention requests.

“We believe that this is an area of unsettled law,” he said.

In a statement issued later Tuesday, Rose also criticized ICE for choosing “not to honor its obligations to defend or stand in place of the sheriff in the current litigation.”

An email sent to ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok wasn’t immediately returned.

Lance Benzel, The Gazette