Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams pushes back on federal report that alleges county didn’t cooperate with ICE
March 25, 2017
A report from Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents 206 examples between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 of immigrants who were alleged to have been released from custody by local jails despite requests from federal agents to hold them. In Colorado, there were 11 such instances according to the report. There were six in Boulder County, three in Jefferson County, one in Denver County and one in Weld.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, and others, panned the report, calling into question its accuracy and fairness.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams called a federal report inflammatory and irresponsible for its claim the sheriff's office failed to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
The report, released Monday, covers the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. It listed 206 examples of immigrants who were alleged to have been released from custody by local jails despite requests from federal agents to hold them.
In one instance, on Dec. 7, 2016, ICE requested Weld officials hold an inmate. Weld sheriff's deputies released the inmate Feb 3.
The requests, often called "detainers," have taken on a greater role in the immigration debate under President Donald Trump, who strenuously opposes local policies that grant leniency to people in the country illegally.
“I find the report inflammatory because it shifts the burden that is the responsibility of ICE to the county sheriff or to a local law enforcement agency. It’s irresponsible at best.” Steve ReamsWeld County Sheriff
Reams said the report completely misrepresents the facts. He said the problem rests with ICE.
"Essentially, they're asking county sheriffs to violate the Constitution because they're not willing to come get a person unless it's Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.," he said.
Weld County Jail deputies routinely notify ICE agents 48 hours before they release any inmate for whom ICE officials have issued a detainer. ICE agents often fail to pick the inmate up in a timely manner, leaving the sheriff's office with little choice but to release the inmate.
"I find the report inflammatory because it shifts the burden that is the responsibility of ICE to the county sheriff or to a local law enforcement agency," he said. "It's irresponsible at best."
Reached on his cell phone late Tuesday, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said he did not immediately know the specifics of the Weld case, and he declined to respond to Reams' complaints.
Still, Reams is not alone in his scathing critique of the veracity and fairness of the report. City and county officials from Oregon to Rhode Island, as well as Texas, either disputed how the report characterized their handling of immigrant arrests, or challenged some of the cases.
Reams said an ICE hold is not a judge-approved legal mandate. It is only a request. If local sheriffs hold inmates past their scheduled release date simply at ICE's request, the sheriffs could face a lawsuit for violating an inmate's Constitutional rights.
"If I hold that person longer than they've been sentenced to jail, and it comes to terms that the ICE hold was requested, or placed, erroneously … then I've essentially violated that person's Constitutional rights by holding them without any due process or due cause," he said.
Reams said there is legal precedent across the country under which local law enforcement agencies — and therefore the taxpayers of the local municipality — have faced a penalty for following an ICE request.
"There have been federal court rulings in several of the federal judicial districts to that very effect. The sheriff has been sanctioned because ICE didn't come to their defense, despite the fact that person was held based on an ICE request," he said.
Reams said he couldn't speak in specifics about the case ICE highlighted because ICE officials did not provide the sheriff's office with any details about the case. However, based the scant information in the ICE report, he said it appears the inmate was released when the sentence was up.
"In this particular situation, they weren't able to come up and pick up the inmate so they were asking us to hold the person past the date of Feb. 3, and we refused to do so," Reams said.
Reams said he has personally contacted ICE recently with questions about immigration enforcement policies moving forward, to little avail.
"We've been told that the earliest date we could have that meeting is April 4," he said.
Since Trump took office this year with an increased focus on immigration enforcement, local law enforcement officials, such as Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner and Reams, have said they don't have much of a role to play when it comes dealing with a federal issue. Being in the country illegally is a federal crime, and local law enforcement — such as Greeley police officers and Weld deputies — are not tasked with enforcing federal law, they say. It's the same reason local law enforcement does not arrest people who are using marijuana legally under Colorado state law, even though marijuana use is illegal at the federal level. There is no state statute against being in the country illegally.
Still, the information of all inmates in Weld County Jail is forwarded to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Information on foreign-born inmates is forwarded to ICE. That allows ICE agents to interview suspected illegal immigrants and take them into federal custody.
In fact, Reams said he has set aside two offices in the jail for ICE agents to use for their interviews and paperwork when they are in Weld. He said to portray Weld deputies as uncooperative with ICE completely misrepresents the facts.
"There's not a sheriff's office in Colorado that doesn't cooperate with ICE," he said. "The problem is, ICE is inflexible as to how they will do business."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report