The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is suing Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell over what it claims is an illegal plan to have three deputies act as federal immigration enforcement officials.
Those deputies would receive training allowing them to speed handing suspected undocumented immigrants over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under an agreement with the federal agency known as 287(g).
The ACLU argued in a lawsuit, filed Thursday in Teller County District Court, that Mikesell’s participation in 287(g) would violate state law.
“Sheriff Mikesell plans to carry out warrantless immigration arrests and detentions that violate the Colorado Constitution as well as a recently enacted Colorado statute,” ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement. “An agreement with ICE cannot legally authorize a Colorado peace officer to violate Colorado law.”
Under the new law, which takes effect in August, local jails cannot legally honor “detainer” requests by ICE. Those requests ask sheriffs to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours beyond when they are otherwise eligible for release, giving immigration agents a chance to arrest them while they are still in custody.
The legal questions surrounding detainers were highlighted last year when the ACLU sued Mikesell and El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, arguing that that Colorado law does not recognize the requests as proper justification to hold an inmate who has posted bond or resolved his or her criminal case.
The case against Mikesell was dismissed this year.
Mikesell is the only Colorado sheriff known to honor detainers and has yet to say if he will comply with the new law.
Elder no longer honors such requests after a 4th Judicial District judge sided with the civil liberties group. The county’s appeal is pending.
Commander Greg Couch, a spokesman for the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment on the latest ACLU lawsuit.
Couch said the sheriff plans to respond to the allegations next week, after the agency’s attorney has reviewed it.
Mikesell has said he hopes the 287(g) program will help his agency stamp out marijuana cartels run by undocumented immigrants.
The specially trained sheriff’s staff will be able to interrogate suspected undocumented immigrants at the county jail, issue arrest warrants for immigration violations and complete paperwork to begin the deportation process.
Immigration advocates have long criticized 287(g), saying it erodes immigrant communities’ trust in local law enforcement agencies.
Earlier versions of the program allowed trained officers to search for undocumented immigrants. But, under the program in Teller County, only jailed suspects’ documentation would be checked, sheriff’s officials have said.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed on behalf of six Teller County residents, argues that the effort will not only be unlawful, but also expensive. The Sheriff’s Office will have to pay for the deputies to attend a four-week training course in South Carolina in August, according to the civil liberties group.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the Teller County Sheriff’s Office from participating in 287(g) and using taxpayer dollars to fund it.
El Paso County once had such an agreement in place, but abandoned it in 2015 amid concerns that it drained local resources, lacked appropriate federal oversight and led to racial profiling.
The program has cost other communities millions of dollars, the ACLU reports. One Georgia county spends $1.2 to $3.7 million annually on the initiative; another county in Virginia increased property taxes after shelling out more than $6.4 million for its first year of 287(g), according to a news release from the civil liberties group.