Colorado SpringsImmigrationTop Story

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

Author: Lance Benzel, The Gazette - March 20, 2018 - Updated: March 20, 2018

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

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

In a 13-page ruling, 4th Judicial District Judge Eric Bentley granted a preliminary injunction compelling the Sheriff’s Office to honor bonds for two ACLU of Colorado clients who are being held at ICE’s request, but who otherwise are eligible for release.

The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the decision as a victory, saying the ruling puts Elder on notice that the practice of honoring ICE detainers 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 filed a class-action suit 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 is one of two counties in the state that honor such detention requests – a voluntary decision that plunges both counties into a volatile debate over immigration enforcement practices.

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office intends to appeal the issue to the Colorado Supreme Court but will honor the ruling in the meantime, said county spokesman Dave Rose.

One of the plaintiffs has already been released, and the other is likely to be released today, Rose said. They are the only two jail inmates who were held strictly on an ICE detainer, he added.

“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.”

Lance Benzel, The Gazette

Lance Benzel, The Gazette