San Juan County puts deep freeze on ICE ‘holds’

On the heels of recent rulings in federal court, San Juan County and its Sheriff’s Department are joining a rapidly expanding list of cities and counties limiting how far they will go to assist in rounding up those suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

As of May 23, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department ended its long-standing policy of honoring what is now viewed as a request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that anyone taken into custody, and who is suspected of being in the country illegally, be detained for up to 48 hours, long enough for immigration enforcement agents to presumably pick them up.

“It means that once we’re done with them on the local level, they’re free to go,” Sheriff Rob Nou said of the change in policy.

The County Council is prepared to solidify that change in sheriff department policy by crafting it into a binding resolution, which is expected to be approved at the June 17 council meeting.

At the June 3 council meeting, Nou said that in a recent court decision, involving a case out of Clackamas County, Ore., a federal judge ruled Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s controversial I-247 Detainer, commonly known as an ICE hold, functions more like a “request,” rather than an “order,” and local law enforcement officials are not legally bound to abide by it.

Nou said the judge also determined that an ICE hold, by itself, does not constitute “probable cause,” the standard by which an officer can legally make an arrest, conduct a search or detain someone.

In the Clackamas County case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart ruled that the rights of a Portland-area woman, arrested for violating a domestic violence restraining order, were violated because of prolonged detention in jail. The woman’s fingerprints were shared with an ICE database following the arrest, which revealed she was in the county illegally, and ICE asked that the jail place a 48-hour hold on her.

County Manager Mike Thomas said the risk of the county finding itself in a lawsuit, presumably the wrong end, would increase if someone is detained without probable cause.

“What was once a political discussion has now become a risk management discussion at the local level,” Thomas said.

The rulings in federal court have unleashed a wave of recent policy changes for local law enforcement agencies, and for cities and counties as well, and in Oregon and Washington state in particular. As many as 30 counties in Oregon and 11 in Washington state, including King, Skagit and Whatcom, no longer honor ICE holds.

In response to a Journal inquiry, ICE Public Affairs Officer Andrew Munoz responded by email: “When law enforcement agencies remand criminals to ICE custody rather than releasing them into the community, it helps contribute to public safety and the safety of law enforcement,” Munoz said in the email reply. “To further this shared goal, ICE anticipates that law enforcement agencies will comply with detainers.”

However, Munoz also noted that ICE has re-calibrated its use of “detainer holds” in light of the recent court rulings.

“… ICE issued new detainer guidance limiting the use of detainers to individuals who meet the agency’s enforcement priorities and restricting the use of detainers against those arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as traffic violations and other petty crimes,” he added. “The guidance helps ensure that available resources are focused on apprehending convicted felons, repeat offenders and other ICE priorities.”

The request for a detainer-hold by local law enforcement is just one of various policing tools that ICE wields in its enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Dozens of islanders have also been detained and many deported since the U.S. Border Patrol began ramping-up the use of its so-called “citizenship spot-checks” at the Anacortes ferry terminal several years ago.

Nou recalls the manner in which the sheriff department interacts or cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as with the federal “Secure Communities” initiative, was a hot-button issue with islanders during the sheriff’s campaign four years ago.

Back at the sheriff’s department, Nou said once release conditions are satisfied following an arrest, such as posting bail, an individual in custody would be free to go, unless they are subject of a valid warrant from another law enforcement agency.

Still, he doesn’t anticipate that the change in policy will have much impact on the department’s day-to-day operations.

In fact, Nou said a recent review of records reveals the department has not used an ICE detainer on anyone taken in custody in recent years.

“Operationally, I don’t see the change having any real impact,” he said.


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