Instead of punishing sheriffs for not wanting to unlawfully detain someone, President Trump should focus on getting federal immigration officials the resources they need to do their jobs.
As is, an executive order by Trump puts Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter in a terrible position: either potentially hold people in jail illegally – and risk costly lawsuits – or potentially lose millions of dollars in federal grants.
The executive order said that “sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” It then threatened such jurisdictions with losing eligibility to receive federal grants – which could total about $11 million for Sedgwick County.
Though Wichita has been labeled as a “sanctuary city” by an anti-immigration group, the Sedgwick County Jail is not violating federal law.
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On the contrary, Easter is trying to follow the law and obey the Constitution.
The dispute is about people in jail who are suspected of being an illegal immigrant. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests that jails hold those inmates an additional 48 hours in order to determine if they really are in the country illegally.
But extending the holding time of people in jail is illegal without a criminal charge, warrant or court order. And doing so exposes jails to lawsuits.
For example, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2014 that a jail in Pennsylvania unjustly held a man for three days on suspicion that he might be an illegal immigrant. He was a U.S. citizen.
Before Sedgwick County releases someone it suspects might be an illegal immigrant, it contacts ICE. It then delays the release for two to five hours to give ICE time to come get the suspect.
ICE agents never come. Nor do they seem to care.
“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.
The reason ICE doesn’t respond likely is due to limited resources. It doesn’t have the budget or capacity to round up every person suspected of being an illegal immigrant – nor has that been a priority of the U.S. government.
If Trump wants to prevent more suspected illegal immigrants from being released from jails, he needs to give ICE more resources and order it to respond more quickly.
This is a federal government problem. It’s not the fault of local sheriffs who are obeying the law.