ACLU appeals ruling allowing Colo. sheriff to continue operating federal immigration program
Deputies can ID inmates as immigrants who are potentially violating civil immigration law and then hold them until ICE picks them up for detention
By Saja Hindi
The Denver Post
DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is appealing a judge’s ruling that allows the Teller County sheriff to continue operating a program under which deputies can conduct federal immigration enforcement.
Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell has been operating under a 287(g) agreement, a program state and local law enforcement agencies can enter into with the federal government, which trains and allows deputies to enforce federal immigration laws.
In the Teller County jail, that means the deputies who go through the program can identify inmates as immigrants who are potentially violating civil immigration law and then hold them until Immigration and Customs Enforcement picks them up for immigration detention.
But the ACLU contends that this goes beyond a county sheriff’s authority and is a violation of the Colorado Constitution — because inmates are held beyond their release date without a signed judge’s order — and a 2019 state law that limits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE.
In late February, a Teller County District Court judge sided with Teller County, saying the sheriff’s deputies are acting as “de facto federal officers” when performing those functions.
The ACLU filed its notice to appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday, further extending the years-long legal case. Any ruling is expected to apply statewide.
“Under Colorado law, when an inmate posts bond, completes their sentence or otherwise resolves their criminal case, the jail must release them. The sheriff’s 287(g) program unlawfully disrupts this required release,” the ACLU’s attorneys write in their filing.
ACLU staff attorney Annie Kurtz said the group believes the lower court got the ruling wrong and people are being denied a restoration of their liberty and freedom “not on the basis of any judicial warrant, not on the basis of any kind of belief they committed some new crime that should mean they stay in jail under state law, but just because there’s some ICE administrative documents saying that the person might be removable from the United States.”
The ACLU argues that this practice is not authorized by state or federal law, because the 287(g) programs allow local police to conduct immigration enforcement “to the extent consistent with state and local law.”
Mikesell did not return a request for comment. In February, he told The Denver Post that he expected the ACLU to appeal, but said “the law is on our side” and that the county would continue to fight.
The sheriff said participation in the program doesn’t violate state law because the inmates aren’t being held on ICE detainer requests, rather on federal immigration arrest warrants.
An ACLU and University of North Carolina School of Law study found 287(g) programs at least tolerate racial profiling and create harm to their communities, and Kurtz said they have no place in Colorado.
But Miksell, in February, called such findings, “a load of hogwash” and denied that people were being profiled, saying that inmates are asked the same questions they would normally be asked when booked into any jail or prison.