Judge Dismisses ACLU Lawsuit Over Teller County Sheriff Cooperation With ICE

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The Teller County Sheriff's Office and the ACLU of Colorado have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit regarding the sheriff's cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The lawsuit focused on whether Sheriff Jason Mikesell had the authority to enforce federal immigration law. Mikesell is one of the few sheriffs in Colorado who is willing to cooperate with ICE by holding inmates for up to 48 hours after they would normally be released, an action also known as an ICE detainer.

But two major updates in the case motivated the two sides to jointly ask a judge to dismiss the lawsuit on February 1. The plaintiff, Leonardo Canseco, was released from the sheriff's custody on September 3, and in January, the sheriff's office signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE, which, when fully implemented, will transform some of its jailers into federal immigration enforcement agents.

The two sides also worked out an information-sharing protocol that will require the attorney representing the sheriff's office to send records to the ACLU of Colorado within fourteen days of an ICE detainer being placed on a Teller County Jail inmate.

Lawyers from both sides agree that this dismissal is not necessarily a victory or a loss for anyone.

"There's been no ruling of the court. It's just an agreement to dismiss the lawsuit. It's still our position that state law means the sheriff has no authority to enforce immigration law," says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

"I certainly would not call it a victory," says Teller County's attorney, Paul Hurcomb. "It’s an appropriate resolution to it for both sides to not spend a whole bunch of time and money on a case in the courts that really doesn’t need to be there."

Sheriff Jason MikesellEXPAND
Sheriff Jason Mikesell

The lawsuit has been in the works since July 2018, when Canseco was arrested in Cripple Creek for playing the remaining $8.25 that someone had left on a slot machine after stepping away. He was also charged for possessing a fake green card. After being taken to the Teller County Jail, Canseco was placed under an ICE detainer. Anticipating that he would be scooped up by ICE upon his release, he refused to pay bail. Not long after, the ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on his behalf.

The crux of the lawsuit challenged the Teller County Sheriff's Office's argument that it had authority to cooperate with ICE.

"The Sheriff testified that he has seen an increased presence of illegal aliens in Teller County and has seen a nexus between illegal aliens and the increased crime associated with illegal marijuana grows in Teller County," Judge Linda Billings Vela wrote in a ruling in August 2018.

The ruling denied the ACLU of Colorado's motion for preliminary injunction, which aimed to immediately pause Mikesell's cooperation with ICE.

While the slow wheels of court were moving, Mikesell was already in the process of coordinating with ICE on the possibility of entering into a 287(g) agreement, which happened this January. The sheriff's office is in the process of implementing the agreement and will send three of its 28 deputies for ICE training at the federal government's expense in the coming months.

The 287(g) agreement allows these trained jailers to interview inmates about their immigration status, serve arrest warrants for immigration violations and issue immigration detainers, among other duties. The Teller County Sheriff's Office already has an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE allowing for ICE detainees to be housed at the jail, so any detainees processed by Teller County jailers won't actually have to be moved off-site.

While the agreement does turn these select jailers into immigration enforcement agents, they will not be able to handle the whole deportation themselves, nor will they be doing any immigration enforcement outside of the 130-bed jail. Teller County says it will cover any additional personnel costs associated with these new immigration enforcement responsibilities.

Hurcomb expects the program to be operational by spring or summer of this year.

The Teller County Sheriff's Office is the only Colorado sheriff's office to have a 287(g) agreement. Both the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado State Patrol previously had such agreements with ICE, but these contracts have since been discontinued.

Despite the fact that Mikesell is still able to cooperate with ICE, the ACLU of Colorado is optimistic about the prospects for getting a sweeping ruling on Colorado sheriff's offices cooperating with ICE. The organization won a lawsuit against the El Paso County Sheriff's Office over its cooperation with ICE. (The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is appealing that ruling in the Colorado Court of Appeals, meaning that there could be more clarity statewide on an issue that has produced two contradictory court rulings.)

Colorado lawmakers are looking to block sheriff's offices from cooperating with ICE. Representative Adrienne Benavidez has introduced a bill that would prohibit state and local officials from enforcing federal immigration law. The bill is in committee.

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