DENVER – State District Court Judge Eric Bentley issued a final ruling last night barring El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder from holding people in jail at the request of federal immigration enforcement (ICE) after they have posted bond, completed their sentence, or otherwise resolved their criminal case.
“In issuing a very thorough final ruling that concludes the proceedings in state district court, Judge Bentley explained that Colorado sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law by holding individuals at the request of ICE,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The court ruled that when individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, sheriffs have a clear legal duty to release them.”
ACLU of Colorado filed a class action lawsuit last February arguing that Sheriff Elder had unlawfully imprisoned dozens of individuals for days, weeks, and even months, without a warrant, without probable cause of a crime, and without any other valid legal authority, solely on the ground that ICE suspected that they were subject to deportation.
In March, Judge Bentley issued a preliminary injunction finding that the prisoners held by Sheriff Elder would suffer irreparable harm by continuing to forfeit their liberty while the case proceeded. The court later certified the case as a class action. Last night’s ruling makes the injunction permanent and orders Sheriff Elder to cease the illegal practice of holding prisoners for ICE. It also declares that Sheriff Elder’s practices violate three separate provisions of the Colorado Constitution.
“Beyond finding that holding individuals for ICE is unconstitutional, the court also noted a complete lack of evidence to support Sheriff Elder’s claim that the practice promotes public safety,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Arash Jahanian. “The court cited a declaration by the Colorado legislature that public trust is undermined when local law enforcement agencies participate in federal immigration enforcement. Members of the community do not report crimes when they fear it will lead to detention and deportation rather than protection. Local law enforcement’s participation in ICE’s deportation scheme harms, not promotes, public safety.”
In 2014, ACLU of Colorado wrote to Colorado sheriffs explaining that when they hold a prisoner on the basis of ICE detainer requests, they are making a new arrest, without legal authority. The ACLU then negotiated a $30,000 settlement with Arapahoe County on behalf of Claudia Valdez, a domestic violence victim who was held for three days after a judge ordered her release because the jail honored a detainer request from ICE.
Within a few months, every Colorado sheriff receiving the ACLU letter declared that they would not hold prisoners for ICE without a warrant signed by a judge. By the end of 2016, more than 500 state and local law enforcement agencies around the country were declining to hold prisoners on the basis of ICE immigration detainers and ICE administrative warrants.
In 2017, the sheriffs in El Paso County and Teller County broke from the other sheriffs in the state and began honoring detainer requests again. ACLU of Colorado filed lawsuits against both counties. The lawsuit against Teller County is currently pending.
In addition to Silverstein and Jahanian, the legal team includes ACLU Cooperating Attorney Steve Masciocchi of Holland & Hart, LLP.