Pitkin County: We won’t bow to federal immigration coercion
May 26, 2017
At a meeting of Colorado county sheriffs Thursday, a federal immigration official asked Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo to comply with a request.
It went something like this: If a person arrested for, say, DUI enters the Pitkin County Jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants deputies to ask the person's country of birth, notify ICE if the person is from outside the United States and hold them for 48 hours if the agency deems them deportable, DiSalvo said.
"I'm not really into that," the sheriff said.
Neither is Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.
Such an arrangement would violate Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the federal government from compelling state and local governments to administer a federal regulatory program, he said. Further, holding someone in jail solely on the basis of immigration status is not legal because it's a civil matter and not governed by a judicial warrant, Peacock said.
"In our view, ICE is asking us to hold a person without due process," he said. "Frankly, it's wrong and it's illegal."
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ICE's field office director in Denver notified DiSalvo earlier this week that Pitkin County would be one of five counties included on a nationwide list to be published next week of law enforcement agencies that have refused to cooperate with President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration enforcement.
At a meeting Thursday of the County Sheriffs of Colorado in Eagle, DiSalvo said he asked Jeffrey Lynch, the Denver field office director, why Pitkin, Boulder and three other unnamed counties will be included on the list when all 64 counties in the state have refused to honor ICE administrative detainers.
Lynch told him that other sheriff's offices and jails around the state are cooperating with ICE to a certain extent, "but that we're not cooperating in their eyes at all," DiSalvo said. Lynch also declined to name the so-far unidentified other three counties who will appear on the list, and none of the other 30 to 40 sheriffs who attended Thursday's meeting said they'd been notified, he said.
DiSalvo said he worries that if Pitkin County appears on the list, it could affect other federal funding the county might receive, such as millions for a new airport terminal. However, a memo dated Monday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that noncompliant counties can only be denied federal grants administered by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
Pitkin County received $6,885 in federal law enforcement grant money in 2016, according to a county memo. That money was federal reimbursement for holding illegal immigration-related prisoners at the jail for the federal government, DiSalvo said.
Peacock said county officials believe Sessions' justification for denying those funds is not legally sound. In addition, his interpretation of the law is illegal, Peacock said. Pitkin County commissioners said earlier this week they will sue the federal government if it denies any federal funds based on the county's immigration stance.
"There's no legal basis to withhold funding or for the federal government to coerce us into enforcing federal immigration law," he said.
Peacock also took issue with the federal government's apparent view that Pitkin County is not cooperating "at all." In fact, the county is cooperating with every legality it is required to comply with, he said.
"It's not true," he said. "The only real difference is that we spoke our mind and are laying bare their responsibility to enforce federal immigration law."
At Thursday's meeting, other sheriffs asked Lynch why ICE doesn't simply check the websites for each jail in the state's 64 counties and run the names themselves to find out if illegal immigrants are there, DiSalvo said.
However, Lynch made it clear Thursday that ICE and Customs and Border Protection "are in a state of flux," he said.
"They want us to do the work and make the phone call," DiSalvo said. "They're trying to pull off a very heavy lift without a lot of help."