DENVER -- Denver became the third Colorado county to announce this week that it will no longer hold prisoners for federal immigration authorities solely on the basis of immigration status.
Sheriff Gary Wilson made the announcement Wednesday, following the lead of sheriffs in Boulder and San Miguel Counties that have also decided it will stop honoring detainer orders issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or "ICE."
The move to refuse federal immigration holds follows rulings that a county sheriff's department is potentially liable for a Fourth Amendment violation if it holds someone in custody solely on the basis of an immigration detainer.
"Today is a great day to be a defender of the Constitution," said immigration lawyer Hans Meyer at a Wednesday afternoon press conference organized by the ACLU, which wrote letters to county sheriffs asking them to review and revise policies around immigration detainers.
"Until very recently, we think every sheriff in Colorado honored these ICE detainers," said the ACLU's Mark Silverstein. "Up until recently, law enforcement perceived these detainers as a command from the federal government that they were obligated to obey."
According to Silverstein, legal cases and admissions from the federal government have helped change sheriffs' thinking.
"ICE has no power to order a sheriff to hold somebody," he said. "It's really just a request."
Denver will no longer hold a person unless the detainer "is accompanied by a criminal warrant or some other form that gives DSD legal authority to hold the requested person," according to the memo.
Advocates for Latinos criticized the Obama administration for policies that have resulted in thousands of deportations.
"Detainers were the primary mechanism through which our family members and friends were placed into deportation proceedings," said Julie Gonzales with the Colorado Latino Forum.
Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, worked with the various groups in urging Colorado law enforcement officials to rethink policies around detainers and issued a statement on the decision by Denver and the two other counties.
"As the House Republicans continue to block the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, individual states and counties across the country are being pressed into making tough decisions on how to balance enforcement of the law with the protection of civil liberties and the unjust separation of families," Polis said.
"Recent federal litigation has found that submitting to ICE detainer requests by holding individuals well past their release date represents a clear violation of the 4th Amendment, thereby subjecting counties to significant civil liability. Discontinuing the practice of submitting to these requests is the only way that individual counties will be able to shield themselves from a rash of lawsuits by those held on detainers.
“Across Colorado thousands of families have been torn apart when a mom or a dad gets pulled over in a traffic stop and local law enforcement holds him or her for ICE," Polis continued. "I hope that as DHS Secretary Johnson conducts his review of deportation policies, he will address the need to enhance due process protections, save federal dollars, and prevent the unjust separation of American families that so often occurs under existing federal detainer policies."