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ACLU sues Colorado sheriff over plan that allows deputies to make immigration arrests

Posted at 12:07 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 00:50:46-04

TELLER COUNTY, Colo. – The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell over his plan that would allow for three of his deputies to make immigration-related arrests, arguing that the plan violates Colorado state law and the Colorado Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday morning in Teller County District Court, with six county residents named as plaintiffs, including Joanna Nash, a self-described conservative Republican now teaming up with the ACLU.

"I feel pretty strongly about my money being used wisely and not doing the federal government’s work. I think I pay enough federal taxes as it is," said Nash. "He [Mikesell] shouldn’t be spending my money on whatever his private agenda is."

The sheriff's program would be operated under a federal immigration statute known as 287(g), which allows certain local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws. The plan would require taxpayer money to train the deputies, the lawsuit said.

Last year, The El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Colorado Springs had been in the practice of holding prisoners past their release dates at ICE's request, buta judge in December ruled that the practice was unconstitutional, that the sheriff had no authority under state law to hold people once they have posted bond. El Paso County ended is 287 (g) agreement with ICE in 2015, citing "committment to fiscal responsibility."

In May, Gov. Jared Polis signed a law that says people suspected of being in the country illegally can't be kept in jail at the request of immigration officials.

"The new law expressly forbids the sheriff from arresting or detaining anyone for these civil violations of federal immigration law," said Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado. "We say, you work for the state of Colorado — you are bound by Colorado law. He has no authority to violate the Colorado constitution, and he has no authority to hold people because they are suspected of immigration violations."

Silverstein said 287(g) agreements have been shown to increase profiling and may encourage officers to take some people into custody on a minor issue instead of simply issuing a summons because they suspect an immigration issue.

The Teller County lawsuit said the program also violates the Colorado state constitution, which requires that sheriffs release jail prisoners when they post bond or otherwise resolve their criminal cases.

"These constitutional commands apply even when federal immigration authorities suspect that the prisoner is removable from the country," the lawsuit said.

The Teller County Sheriff's Office released a statement on the lawsuit Thursday afternoon, saying it was still reviewing the lawsuit and would comment at a later time but "not specifically related to the contents of the litigation."