Sheriff, federal agency at odds on caught immigrants

Cross Posted from Borders Pundit 

Our Sheriff is angry. I don’t blame him. I’m angry too. Why can’tI.C.E. deport the illegals, whether they’re criminals or not? It doesn’t make sense.

Maricopa County Jail inmates convicted or cleared ofhuman-smuggling charges and presumed to be undocumented were allowed towalk out of jail without being removed from the country because of aspat over jurisdiction between the Sheriff’s Office and federalimmigration agents.

Since the first arrests made under Arizona’s human-smuggling law inMarch, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has filed 268 cases, 31against suspected coyotes and the rest against suspected conspiratorsassumed to be undocumented immigrants.

So far, 63 have pleaded guilty to lesser offenses, 15 have been dismissed, two acquitted and one convicted by a jury.

But 17 have walked right out of the jail andinto the community – including six who pleaded guilty tohuman-smuggling felonies – because the U.S. Bureau of Immigration andCustoms Enforcement agency decided it wouldn’t transport out of thecountry people prosecuted under the controversial coyote law.

Instead, they slipped unnoticed through the red tape of a giant jail system and onto the streets.

Since July 11, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has transported14 more of the coyote-law defendants in four trips to the Yuma area torendezvous with U.S. Border Patrol agents willing to take the prisonersand put them through the federal process for removal.

“Why would they refuse to pick up the felons?” Sheriff Joe Arpaio asked.

Because, according to an ICE spokesman, only federal agents withICE, the Border Patrol and other U.S. Department of Homeland Securityofficials are legally empowered to determine who is a citizen and whois in the country legally, which they do through specific interviewsand checks.

“An officer must base the determination of status upon either aninterview of the subject or through fingerprint comparison withexisting records,” ICE Special Agent in Charge Roberto Medina said in aJuly 6 letter to Arpaio. “Furthermore, only federal officers . . . canplace detainers pursuant to the (Immigration and Nationality Act).”

State and county law enforcement can’t make such determinations about “alienage.”

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was distressed.

“ICE’s refusal to pick up and deport acknowledged illegal immigrantsarrested by local law enforcement shows that the federal policy of’catch and release’ is still the order of the day,” he said. “Thefederal government’s continued unwillingness to perform its basic dutyof securing our border makes Arizona’s human-smuggling law all the moreimportant.”

According to the Sheriff’s Office, there are an average of 900 to1,000 prisoners in the jail at any one time with immigration detainers,or holds, indicating that ICE is to be contacted before they can bereleased.

ICE picks up prisoners every weekday. According to ICE spokesmanRussell Ahr, for example, the agency picked up 165 immigrationdetainees between June 11 and July 12. According to the Sheriff’sOffice, the agency picked up 23 on Monday alone. But they refused totake the person in the group who had been prosecuted under the coyotelaw.

Ahr claimed ICE decisions are based on priorities: prior criminalhistory, immigration status, nationality and the nature of the crimethey’re accused of.

“The purpose of a detainer is not to have an illegal alien removed; the purpose is to have a criminal alien removed,” he said.

When suspects are booked into Maricopa County jails, they arequestioned on their immigration status. And if the interviewingofficers doubt the suspect’s immigration status, they send a teletypedmessage to ICE, which responds with its decision of whether to place adetainer on that suspect after running the information through itsdatabanks.

Arpaio claimed that 35 of the suspects charged with human-smuggling violations had immigration holds that were later removed.

The reasoning for dropping the holds, according to Medina’s letter,was that even though the suspects were being held on suspicion of humansmuggling, which presupposes they are here illegally, ICE officialsdetermined their interviews had not been conducted by qualified ICEpersonnel.

“In which case it should be incumbent on them to do an interview,” said MCSO Chief Michael Olson, who is in charge of the jails.

Instead, as the charges were dropped, or as the convicts weresentenced to probation, they were released by deputies because therewere no holds against them.

The lapse was discovered June 11 when a judge acquitted two men ofconspiracy to commit smuggling and MCSO personnel called to have themtransported from the jail.

When ICE refused, Arpaio announced he would have his own deputies do the transport.

“Now we have to waste our manpower,” Arpaio said. “I don’t have todo this. I can just let them go on the street. Who cares? Becausethey’re convicted felons. They deserve to go back to Mexico because ajudge said they’re going back to Mexico. He didn’t say how.”

**This was a production of The Coalition Against Illegal Immigration (CAII). If you would like to participate, please go to the above link to learn more. Afterwards, email the coalition and let me know at what level you would like to participate.

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