ICE responds to sheriff's new Maricopa Co. jail policy

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is calling Sheriff Paul Penzone's new Maricopa County jail policy "an immediate, dangerous change."

Friday night, Penzone announced that his office will no longer do "courtesy holds" for immigrants.

[READ MORE: Sheriff Paul Penzone changes jail rule for immigrants]

For years, immigrants being released from jails in Phoenix would routinely be kept locked up an extra couple days to give federal authorities time to check their immigration status and launch deportation proceedings.

It was a policy put in place by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but it was widely denounced by critics who cited it as a pattern of unfair treatment toward immigrants.
In response Saturday, ICE released the following statement:

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to using its unique enforcement authorities and available resources and tools to promote national security, uphold public safety, and preserve the integrity of our immigration system. 

The recent announcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) entails an immediate, dangerous change, reversing the long-standing practice of honoring immigration detainers. Instead, MCSO has implemented a policy which will undoubtedly result in dangerous criminal aliens being released to the street to re-victimize the innocent citizens of that community.  Additionally, the new policy puts ICE officers at a higher risk as more fugitive operations teams will need to arrest criminal aliens outside of the secure confines of the county jail.

"This sudden change in posture is unfortunate,” said Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Phoenix. “Immigration detainers have been a successful enforcement tool to prevent the release of dangerous criminals to our streets and mitigate the possibility of future crimes being committed against the residents of our communities.”

To that end, ERO will continue to seek to collaborate with law enforcement agencies in the Phoenix area, including the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, to help ensure that individuals who may pose a threat to our communities are not released onto the street to potentially re-offend and harm our citizens."

In Penzone's news conference Friday night, he announced that he was doing away with the policy amid questions about its constitutionality.

That means the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will no longer keep immigrants past their release dates, putting more of the onus on Immigration, Customs and Enforcement officers.

"I have an obligation that this office act constitutionally and within the laws," Penzone said at a news conference.

Penzone said the Maricopa County Attorney's Office informed him of the legal issues surrounding policy, and he responded by doing away with the practice.

The County Attorney's Office said Saturday that it had reviewed U.S. court cases on ICE civil immigration detainers, including a Texas one in which a court concluded that county officials without federal authorization to enforce immigration law can't hold people beyond the time necessary to enforce state law.

The following is a statement from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office:

"As previously announced, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office will no longer detain County jail inmates facing a civil immigration detainer beyond the period of time for detention authorized under Arizona State law. This conclusion and the resulting change in policy came after consultation with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO), which serves Maricopa County officials as their legal advisor.

MCAO surveyed recent cases around the country concerning similar circumstances.  The legal issues involved may be best illustrated by the case of Mercado v. Dallas County, Texas. The Mercado case concluded that county officials without federal 287(g) authority may not rely on a civil immigration detainer to maintain custody of an individual beyond the time reasonably necessary for county officials to administrate and execute a state release order under state law.

This does not prevent any communications between County detention officials and ICE officials to notify ICE of a pending release and transfer custody at or within the timeframe of releasing an individual from state-based detention."

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican who has co-sponsored Arizona legislation targeting illegal immigration, earlier said Penzone's move "really infuriates" him and that he'd try to get it rescinded.

Kavanagh said he'll consult legislative lawyers and the County Attorney's Office about Penzone's move.

It may violate a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE on immigration matters to the fullest extent of the law, opening the door for sanctions against the county if the move isn't rescinded, Kavanagh said.

The new rules come as President Donald Trump has issued executive orders demanding a tougher stance on immigration, carrying through on promises that were a centerpiece of the celebrity businessman's campaign. Immigration officers have arrested hundreds of immigrants in the country illegally within the last week, including gang members, sex offenders and drug traffickers.

Immigrants say agents are also sweeping up people wanted on lesser offenses and tearing apart families. The government says the actions are a continuation of policies during the presidency of Barack Obama, whose administration deported a record number of immigrants.

The actions and ensuing controversy are a replay of sorts from what happened in Phoenix over the last decade under Arpaio, who campaigned alongside Trump on several occasions.

Arpaio's immigration raids and sweeps generated the most controversy during his time as sheriff, but his opponents also took him to task for how immigrants were treated in his jail system. That includes the presence of immigration officers at the jails and the "courtesy holds" that Penzone eliminated.

An activist arrested during a protest against Trump and Arpaio last year sued the sheriff late last year and accused the office of unlawfully holding her overnight for a federal immigration check even though she is a U.S. citizen. Jacinta Gonzalez Goodman and others blocked off a road leading to a protest at a Trump rally in Fountain Hills during his presidential campaign.

Gonzalez Goodman was held overnight while others arrested during the protest were let go. She said she was the only one of her group to be interviewed by ICE.

"Penzone's announcement cleans up just one of the many messes Arpaio left behind and is a step in the right direction He must go further however to ensure that all law enforcement agencies are obtaining judicial warrants before entering his jail," she said in a statement Friday.
Activists also want ICE agents out of the jail system, but Penzone is not taking that step.

"We are going to continue to be aggressive in enforcing the laws to keep the public safe," he said.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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