Areas that don’t follow Homeland Security’s increasingly more strict immigration orders, could lose federal funding, according to a January executive order by President Donald Trump. To locate offenders, weekly reports were first released in March by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of Homeland Security.
“We have not explicitly defined ourselves as a sanctuary community, however, we are on Homeland Security’s sanctuary community list,” said Councilman Bill Watson, while fielding questions at the March 27 town hall meeting he hosted on San Juan.
The two released reports list San Juan County as an area that follows sanctuary jurisdiction policies. A sanctuary jurisdiction does not cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.
In San Juan County, deputies do not follow ICE requests to hold aliens for deportation, if it’s past their scheduled release dates, unless warrants are issued.
While the county has made no official determination as a sanctuary jurisdiction, this policy could still strip them of federal grants.
According to San Juan County Auditor F. Milene Henley, in 2016, federal and state grants were the second largest source of revenue in the county, after property taxes.
“It is erratic in the best of times and in the current political environment, uncertain for the future,” said Henley of grant funding.
Henley explained, at the town hall meeting, that the majority of 2016’s federal grant money (36 percent) came from the Department of Transportation, which primarily funds roads. The Environmental Protection Agency, which funds the county Marine Resources Committee and salmon recovery program, accounts for 30 percent of federal grant money; Health and Human Services, which funds senior services and substance abuse programs, accounts for 14 percent; and Homeland Security, which funds the new sheriff’s boat and disaster planning grants, accounts for 10 percent.
“Right now, it’s rumor,” said Watson in regards to the defunding of sanctuary jurisdictions. “We won’t know until we see it.”
According to San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord, in May 2014, Washington’s prosecuting attorneys decided to abide by an Oregon federal court case that ruled holding people past their scheduled release dates without a warrant violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures.
New forms for ICE requests, known as detainers, were released as drafts on March 29 and took effect on April 3, said Gaylord. Washington prosecuting attorneys agreed on March 30, to maintain their policy to reject detainers unless evidence of probable cause of a crime is included. Holding people past their release dates could make the county liable for damages, like in the 2014 federal case cited above and several others.
The ICE detainer form requires “probable cause…that the subject is a removable alien,” not probable cause of a crime.
“The mere presence in the United States or being ‘removable’ is not necessarily a crime in and of itself,” said Gaylord. “There may be ways subjects arrived here that are lawful and there are ways that are a crime, but what they show us here (on the form), it’s just insufficient for us to know if it’s a crime. To honor the ICE request for a hold puts the county at risk.”
Currently, the sheriff’s office only reports alien perpetrators of major crimes to ICE.
“We don’t even make phone calls on misdemeanors, but major felonies are a different situation,” said Undersheriff Brent Johnson.
The sheriff’s immigration policies of focusing on serious crimes, like felonies, is sensible, said Gaylord, and consistent with ICE policies during the Obama administration. The Trump administration has declared they will focus on misdemeanors as well, he added.
“I think this change in policy is a real mistake,” said Gaylord. “Our communities are safer when small crimes are reported without fear of reprisal.”
According to ICE’s website, “Federal immigration laws authorize DHS to issue” requests to remove aliens. The website states that released aliens “potentially reoffend or harm” community members.