If the Teller County Sheriff’s Office has its way, the county’s taxpayers will foot the bill for implementing a program that would allow three of its deputies to act as federal immigration enforcement agents.
But six Teller County residents in conjunction with the ACLU of Colorado say that’s a violation of state law and the Colorado Constitution.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit Thursday in Teller County District Court, asking a judge to stop the county from enacting an agreement, known as the 287(g), with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The civil rights organization calls the agreement unlawful.
As of last month, ICE had 90 agreements with law enforcement agencies in 21 states that allow local law enforcement officers to act as federal immigration agents, identifying, interviewing and detaining people they suspect are in violation of immigration law, according to the agency’s website. The officers or deputies are trained by ICE, which supervises the program. Federal regulations say the agreements must be consistent with state and local law.
The ACLU alleges that in Colorado, the program is not consistent with state statute. In May, Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a law that prohibits county sheriffs from holding inmates past their release dates so ICE agents can pick them up.
“It makes it crystal clear that arrests or detentions on the basis of ICE documents that are not reviewed or signed by a judge are forbidden by Colorado statute and the Legislature declared by the Colorado Constitution,” said ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein.
The agreement also isn’t consistent with the Colorado Constitution based on a 2018 court ruling, Silverstein added.
The Teller County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The Teller County sheriff is the only Colorado agency participating in the 287(g) program. Officials signed the agreement in January, but it doesn’t take effect until the sheriff’s office sends its three deputies to the four-week training in South Carolina, Silverstein said.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office ended its agreement in 2015 but continued to hold prisoners after they had posted bond or their cases had been resolved at the request of ICE. A state district court ruled the practice unconstitutional last year after an ACLU class-action lawsuit.
Thursday’s lawsuit cites some of the problems the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office found with the program, including exhausting local resources, lacking federal oversight, racial profiling of immigrants and damaging community relationships.
It also cites U.S. Department of Justice investigations and studies into other sheriffs’ offices 287(g) programs that found patterns of racial profiling, intimidation tactics and an erosion of trust in the community. The Major Cities Chiefs Association attributed a potential increase in crime to local police participating in immigration enforcement, according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU also sued Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell in July 2018 seeking the release of a man charged with two misdemeanors the group said was being held illegally based on an ICE detainer. They ultimately settled the case after the inmate’s release and with the agreement that the sheriff’s office would provide information about its 287(g) plans.
The 287(g) program could cost taxpayers millions of dollars that could instead be used for enforcement of local and state laws, the lawsuit said.
The sheriff does not have the authority to hold inmates past their release dates because of ICE detainers or administrative warrants that are not signed by a judge and “there’s a whole line of Colorado Supreme Court decisions” that define a sheriff’s limited authority, Silverstein said.
“Sheriffs are peace officers in Colorado and the statute about peace officers says they’re authorized to enforce the laws of the state of Colorado,” he said.
The six residents who are suing the sheriff’s office argue they should not pay to have sheriff’s deputies enforce federal immigration policies but instead should enforce Colorado law and protect the residents of Teller County, Silverstein said.
Some of the costs associated with the program, as listed in the lawsuit, include local transportation, cable and power upgrades at the jail, an ICE supervisory office at the jail and four weeks of airfare, food and other costs associated with the training.
“Sheriff Mikesell has publicly stated that TCSO is understaffed, that the county does not have enough money to hire more officers to adequately patrol the county, and that the county needs to hire more deputies to carry out his existing local law enforcement duties,” attorneys wrote. “He has stated repeatedly that there often are only two deputies out on patrol.”
In the lawsuit, attorneys cite other counties that have spent millions of dollars on their programs, including Price Williams County, Virginia, which raised property taxes to help pay for the program’s $6.4 million cost in the first year of operation.