Teller County Sheriff Will Turn Jailers Into Immigration Enforcement Agents

The Teller County Sheriff's Office has signed an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to turn some of its jailers into immigration enforcement agents.

Signed by Sheriff Jason Mikesell, what's known as the 287(g) agreement will give Teller County Jail personnel the chance to be trained and certified to enforce immigration law within the jail. Chosen jailers won't be allowed to handle the whole deportation process without assistance from ICE, but they can get it started. The trained employees will be able to question inmates about their immigration status, serve arrest warrants for immigration violations and issue immigration detainers, among other responsibilities. The sheriff's office will foot the bill for any additional personnel costs related to these new duties, according to the agreement.

The ACLU of Colorado is suing the Teller County Sheriff's Office over its past cooperation with ICE. Although legal director Mark Silverstein concedes that it is unclear how the 287(g) agreement will affect the current lawsuit, he says that the decision to further tie the two agencies together would damage the community.

"When local law enforcement enforces federal immigration laws, they lose the trust of immigrant communities. Victims of crime are hesitant to call police when they fear that doing so may drag themselves or their friends and family into the deportation machinery. ... This loss of community trust undermines public safety," Silverstein says.

Jail staffers will also be able to transport "arrested aliens subject to removal to ICE-approved detention facilities," such as the federal agency's main Colorado detention facility, in Aurora. But in some cases they won't have to go very far, since the 130-bed Teller County Jail is already an ICE-approved undocumented-immigrant detention facility. The agreement allows for temporary housing of individuals already detained by ICE. Jails in El Paso, Moffat and Rio Grande counties can also house ICE detainees, but only Teller can hold them for more than 72 hours. ICE pays the jails a daily rate for each detainee they house.

click to enlarge Sheriff Jason Mikesell - YOUTUBE
Sheriff Jason Mikesell
Although the agreement gives immigration enforcement powers to jailers, it does not extend to deputies who patrol the county. Still, it's a step too far for Silverstein. The TCSO declined to comment for this story, citing the pending litigation, and ICE declined to comment because of the government shutdown.

"The 287(g) agreement is just another way in which the sheriff is exceeding his legal authority. He doesn't have the authority to enforce immigration law," Silverstein says. "Under this agreement, it’s okay with the feds for the sheriff to enforce immigration. But it also has to be okay with the State of Colorado. That’s the part that Sheriff Mikesell and the feds are overlooking."

Teller County is the only jurisdiction in Colorado that has this type of agreement with ICE. El Paso County signed one in 2007 but discontinued it in 2015, saying that it wasted county resources. When announcing its decision, the office cited critics who claimed that the agreement resulted "in the profiling of undocumented immigrants." A unit in the Colorado State Patrol also signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE, but the contract was canceled years ago.

The TCSO has been cooperating with ICE by honoring 48-hour detainers for individuals who would otherwise be released from custody after posting bond or serving their sentences. If ICE requests such a detainer, often referred to as an ICE hold, the jail keeps the detainee for a maximum of 48 hours after his or her scheduled release until ICE agents can take him or her into custody.

Silverstein says the ACLU of Colorado sent letters to all but one sheriff's office operating jails across the state in spring 2014, telling them that they didn't have authority to honor ICE hold requests. Every sheriff who received the letter, including Mikesell's predecessor in Teller County, agreed to stop the practice, Silverstein says. (The ACLU of Colorado did not send a letter to the El Paso County sheriff back then, because his office had a 287(g) agreement at the time.)

In the ACLU lawsuit against Teller County, attorneys representing plaintiff Leonardo Canseco cited past Colorado court decisions to argue that Mikesell exceeded his authority by honoring ICE hold requests. During a July 2018 press conference, Mikesell shared his reasoning for fighting the ACLU lawsuit. Echoing arguments that President Trump has used to push for stricter immigration policies, Mikesell said, “These are not people that you want as your neighbors. These detainees have committed crimes in my community and throughout the United States, such as sexual assault, drug manufacturing and attempted homicide, and many other crimes that cause our citizens to live in fear.”

But Canseco was not arrested for any of these serious crimes. Instead, he was hauled in to the jail, which is located in Divide, because he played $8 in credit left by someone else on a casino slot machine.

Lawsuits against ICE detainers have produced mixed results. The ACLU of Colorado won a lawsuit against El Paso County over its ICE jail holds, a decision the sheriff's office is fighting in the Colorado Court of Appeals. In the Teller County case, a district court judge denied a preliminary injunction that would have forced the practice to stop while the case was litigated.

The full agreement between ICE and the Teller County Sheriff's Office is below.