The Sedgwick County sheriff is facing a choice after a presidential executive order on immigration enforcement and “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
Sheriff Jeff Easter said his department could hold people in jail longer to give immigration officers more time to arrive but risk getting sued by people who would otherwise be released. Or the sheriff’s office could continue releasing those people without waiting for the feds, which could put millions of federal dollars at risk.
Several Sedgwick County officials aren’t thrilled by the choice.
“It seems like we have taxpayer dollars at risk regardless,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said.
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It seems like we have taxpayer dollars at risk regardless.
Richard Ranzau, Sedgwick County commissioner
An executive order signed by President Trump last week threatened “sanctuary jurisdictions” with losing eligibility to receive federal grants.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” according to the executive order. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”
Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.
Presidential Executive Order on Jan. 25
The sheriff’s office in 2014 decided to partially honor “detainer” requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when someone in the country illegally is about to be released from jail.
The sheriff’s office would not honor ICE requests to keep people in custody for an additional 48 hours. Easter says multiple cases have ruled that holding people longer based solely on those requests is illegal.
“If we get paperwork that says ‘release them’ … we immediately e-mail ICE to say, ‘Hey, these folks are getting ready to be released. Come get them,’ ” Easter said.
Easter said those people are released from jail two to five hours later.
“They (ICE) do not come and get these individuals in that time frame,” Easter said. “They wouldn’t even come out and get them. That’s been going on for years.”
Easter said he and District Attorney Marc Bennett have largely given up on calling ICE, because they can’t get an answer from them.
“If ICE isn’t taking care of federal law that they can only enforce and now we have this issue that’s being shoved down that it’s all the locals’ fault – that’s a problem,” Easter said.
Easter said his office is following federal law by notifying ICE. He also blasted the sanctuary label from the “partisan” Center for Immigration Studies.
“There is not any law, any court case, nothing in government that defines what a sanctuary city is,” Easter said. “Nothing.”
Easter said he was unsure whether elements of the presidential executive order would be passed by Congress into law.
We have to follow the law, plain and simple, whether it gets us sued or not.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter
“We have to follow the law, plain and simple, whether it gets us sued or not,” he said.
But Easter pointed to one example in Arizona: Maricopa County under former Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits related to immigration.
“All I’m trying to do is to ensure our taxpayer dollars here are not going to be wasted on lawsuits,” Easter said.
Easter said he also was worried about the impact of another executive order signed by Trump that gives local law enforcement what he says is “the ability to arrest any illegal alien.”
“The issue that is perplexing … is what would that do to our call load and answering our regular calls,” he said.
‘Potential loss of millions’
Officials said the sanctuary jurisdiction status could affect more than $11 million in federal grant funding per year.
Commissioners said they wanted to talk with their attorneys before they provided input to Easter on how to proceed.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be the taxpayers in Sedgwick County that are either going to lose $11 million or $12 million or they’re going to have start paying court cases if you get sued,” Commissioner David Dennis said. “One way or the other, it’s going to come out of the budget.”
Ultimately, it’s going to be the taxpayers in Sedgwick County that are either going to lose $11 million or $12 million or they’re going to have start paying court cases if you get sued.
David Dennis, Sedgwick County commissioner
Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said he was worried about how health and human service agencies would be affected by cuts to grant funding.
“We do not want to expose ourselves to potential loss of millions of dollars in federal funds,” Unruh said.
“We will have discussions and give you our opinion, fully realizing that is the elected sheriff’s ultimate decision.”