County sheriffs in charge of America’s jails are starting to refuse to honor requests by the federal government to keep people suspected of being undocumented immigrants in detention. In the great majority of jails, incoming inmates get their fingerprints taken and run though a federal system that checks their legal status.
Those suspected of being undocumented immigrants are then flagged by the Department of Homeland Security, which then issues a ‘detainer’ to hold them until Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrives. Many sheriffs believed these detainers were the equivalent of a warrant; however, it has become clear that they are nothing more than requests. As a result of a series of court decisions, sheriffs have realized that holding people for no other reason is actually in violation of the Constitution.
“I’m not taking a stand on immigration, but I’d like to point out that the system is really screwed up, and they’re leaving us in a bad position,” says Boulder County sheriff Joe Pelle. “Everybody is being forced to have their county attorneys look at this … and change their policy.”
Last month Pelle joined a number of other sheriffs in Colorado by announcing that he was no longer going to honor the requests from ICE. With weekends and holidays, the 48-hour detention request can stretch for up to a week: “Even 48 hours is a very long time to someone who should be free,” Pelle notes. “The government has to have adequate grounds to deprive someone of their liberty. Even for a few minutes, it needs to be justified.”