Lawsuit: El Paso County sheriff’s policy violates immigrant rights

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is improperly holding people suspected of being in the country illegally on behalf of federal authorities, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union.

The complaint in Colorado District Court alleges El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder “holds prisoners in custody for days, weeks and even months after state law requires their release.”

After inmates suspected of being in the country illegally have been ordered released by a court or served their sentence, the lawsuit says Elder’s department files a form indicating it is now housing the inmates on behalf of the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Courts in several states have ruled that sheriffs cannot hold people on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement without violating the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.

In 2015, after a settlement with a suburban Denver sheriff’s office, the ACLU announced all Colorado sheriffs other than Elder had agreed to no longer honor ICE “detainer” requests.

The Trump administration has begun a test program in Florida in which they contract with local jails to hold immigrants using the same paperwork as in El Paso County.

It’s an attempt to get around the legal obstacles courts have erected to sheriffs assisting with immigration enforcement. It is exploring rolling the program out nationwide.

John Krieger, a spokesman for the Colorado ACLU, said he believed the lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the theory that “a housing contract with a jail can insulate a county sheriff from liability for holding prisoners at ICE’s request after state law authority for confinement has ended.”

Elder said in a statement that his agency is following the same procedures it established in 2007 when it signed a contract to assist ICE.

“Make no mistake, we have and will continue to fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” the sheriff said.