Sheriff Jeff Easter said Wednesday the Sedgwick County Jail will no longer honor requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates past the completion of their sentences.
Previously, inmates suspected of being in the country illegally were detained an additional 24 to 48 hours to allow ICE time to take the person into custody. However, a court ruling in March found that these were merely requests from ICE.
In the court case – Galarza v. Szalczyk – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that in Pennsylvania, Lehigh County officials unjustly held Ernesto Galarza past the date he posted bail on suspicion that he might be an illegal immigrant. Three days after he was supposed to be released, immigration officials found Galarza was a U.S. citizen, according to the court ruling.
As a result of the ruling, jails across the country are refusing to grant ICE requests automatically.
“We could be liable for holding someone against their will, is what it comes down to,” Easter said. “I don’t know if the taxpayers of Sedgwick County want to pay for a lawsuit like that.”
Inmates with ICE detainers are booked into jail on charges of committing a crime locally. Fingerprints are submitted to ICE and if the agency thinks the individual is in the U.S. illegally, it can place a detainer on the inmate to determine if he or she should be deported. Individuals are not booked into the jail strictly because ICE thinks they are in the country illegally, which poses a problem, Easter said. If the jail continues to hold inmates solely based on an ICE request, it does so without a court order or a judicial review, Easter said, which is illegal.
If ICE presents a warrant or court order requiring the inmate be held in custody longer, that order will be followed, provided it has “been signed by a federal magistrate and is based on a finding of probable cause,” Easter said.
Sedgwick County currently has 18 inmates being held with ICE detainers, Easter said. The county started not honoring ICE detainers about two weeks ago. Easter said it is “incumbent upon ICE to address” individuals before their scheduled release date.
“This could be remedied if ICE comes up with some legal processes that allow us to hold them under a court order,” Easter said. “The issue lies within the federal government itself and their processes.”
Easter said the change in policy will reduce inmate population “to some extent.” ICE did not pay the cost of holding inmates in the jail for an additional 48 hours, so Easter said the decision will have a minor financial benefit.
“Is there going to be some cost savings? Yeah, there will be, but that’s not what we look at on this,” Easter said. “If these folks have committed serious offenses against the United States government then they need to be held accountable for that.”
The Sedgwick County Detention Facility already houses surplus inmates in other counties, at a cost of approximately $2.5 million per year, Easter said.
“We are not holding them even a minute longer than we have to,” Easter said.
Sedgwick County officials are currently working with ICE supervisors to devise new processes, Easter said.
The decision comes in the wake of other Kansas counties announcing similar measures earlier this week. Shawnee, Johnson and Finney counties said Tuesday that they would stop automatically honoring ICE requests. Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said the county will also refuse these requests.
Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet said his county will follow suit. Butler currently has seven inmates with ICE detainers, though Herzet said most of those inmates will eventually receive a warrant for further holding.
“I basically expect the federal government to follow the law just like all the other agencies that house with me,” Herzet said. “The law’s the law. You just can’t hold somebody on a hold – you’ve got to have a warrant.
“I sure want to work with the government but we need to do things by the law.”
ICE’s authority to issue these requests comes from a provision regarding the Secretary of Homeland Security’s power under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states the secretary may issue regulations “necessary to carry out” the secretary’s authority. It also comes from ICE’s general authority to detain individuals subject to removal from the country, said ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement partners throughout Kansas as the agency seeks to enforce its priorities by identifying and removing convicted criminals and others who are public safety threats,” Neudauer said in an e-mailed statement.