Denver County has joined a growing list of places that will no longer hold inmates for federal immigration authorities solely on the basis of immigration status, Sheriff Gary Wilson said Wednesday.
The move to refuse federal immigration holds follows rulings that a county sheriff's department is potentially liable for a Fourth Amendment violation if it holds someone in custody solely on the basis of an immigration detainer.
On Wednesday, Denver joined Boulder, Mesa, Routt, Jefferson, Grand and San Miguel counties in saying they would no longer honor requests for the holds, called detainers.
"It is the legal equivalent of asking the sheriff to make a new arrest" without any legal grounds, Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado chapter of the ACLU, said at a news conference. He was joined by Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez, civil rights lawyers and activists.
In a recent letter, the ACLU had asked the state's sheriffs to review and revise their policies on the detainers.
It's not an issue in El Paso County, where 13 deputies, two sergeants and one lieutenant are certified to carry out immigration enforcement within their jurisdiction, according to Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer.
"This is the only jail in the state where we have 287(g)-certified deputies and because they carry those credentials, we can expedite the administrative process involved with ICE detainees," Kramer said. "Even before, or during the time, when a person is held in our facility on local charges, our guys have worked the case enough to know if there's a need for a detainer on the basis of immigration status."
The program has been in place in El Paso County since at least 2008, Kramer said.
Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger said his office rarely has ICE detainer requests, but it doesn't detain anyone without probable cause.
"We don't have detainers in Teller County," Ensminger said. "Anyone that we hold for ICE is there because they've been prosecuted and a judge has ordered their deportation. None of the guys that we are holding for ICE are there for any other reason, or are under any kind of detainer."
In an e-mail, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement throughout Colorado while seeking "to enforce its priorities by identifying and removing convicted criminals and others who are public safety threats."
The holds are typically 48 hours, but on a holiday weekend can run to six days, Silverstein said. Denver has had about 3,000 ICE holds a year.
Most of those held have only minor, or even no criminal records, Silverstein said. Though sheriffs may believe they are required to hold the inmates, the detainers are not commands, he added.
Gazette reporter Andrea Sinclair contributed to this report