Homeland Security list targets county

Dan Altena

ORANGE CITY—Immigration and Customs Enforcement released March 20 its first weekly list of jails and jurisdictions that have not honored immigrant detainer requests between Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

The list from the Department of Homeland Security covers the cases of 206 unnamed individuals who ICE said committed “notable criminal activity” and the jails from which they were released.

Sioux County made the list. 

Sioux County sheriff Dan Altena told the Sioux County Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting Tuesday morning, March 28, that the county has not held people on ICE detainer requests since 2014 because the county has a written policy that states the county “will not honor ICE detainer request unless a judge has approved the move with a probable cause warrant.”

“It’s not a statement I or [Sioux County Attorney] Tom [Kunstle] are making based on our political beliefs on immigration,” Altena said.

The published list comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s executive order on the interior enforcement of the nation’s immigrant laws. The order directed the Department of Human Services to compile and publicize a list of “criminal actions committed by aliens” and identify any jurisdiction that ignored any federal detainer requests.

ICE detainer requests go to cities and counties asking local law enforcement to hold an inmate who is in the country illegally and has been arrested or charged with a crime. The requests ask local officials to hold such prisoners for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can question them. ICE officials can decide whether to pick up the prisoners and deport them or release the prisoners.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that the Justice Department plans to withhold as much as $1.4 billion in federal grants from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

“We see some of the federal government saying they’re going to take away some federal monies if we’re being a sanctuary city, but we don’t feel we’re a sanctuary county because we’re fully complying with ICE,” Altena said. “We contact ICE partially because we need the correct information on the person. The only thing we don’t do is hold them on the detainer request, which hundreds of counties across the U.S. are not doing. We legally can’t. It would be a huge liability for the county maybe criminally and civilly.”

Kunstle said if a person is only suspected of being an illegal immigrant, they’re not violating state law.

“They’re violating federal law, which is the responsibility of federal agents,” Kunstle said. “In a sense, ICE wants the state to do their work for them. We hold people but only as the state law provides.”

Altena said the sheriff’s department has received pressure from some county residents who think that because the county is not holding people in ICE detainer requests, the county is letting criminals go.

“We can’t legally hold someone in jail unless they’ve committed a crime,” Altena said. “What these groups don’t understand is that just because somebody is in our country and they’re illegal, we can’t just arrest them. No. 1, we don’t have the authority to randomly go picking up people who are illegal. They still have rights. I can’t hold somebody in our jail unless we have probable cause that they’ve committed a crime or there’s a warrant out for their arrest.”

Altena said some of the national push for interior immigration control is coming from the Center for Immigration Studies.

“This organization is of the belief that everyone who is here illegally should be shipped out,” he said. “Logistically, I don’t think that’s possible. Through our 2008 county task force meeting, we learned there are a lot of people in Sioux County that are illegal. It’s hard to find out who they are and it’s hard to deal with that too, what impact that would have if they were all taken away.”

Altena said while some county citizens, through letters to the editor and social media, are saying the sheriff’s department is not doing its job, the county also has residents advocating on the opposite side, seeking to support immigrants by promoting policy change. He said there’s also talk among area churches about being sanctuary churches.

“There are a lot of voices on this issue,” Altena said. “But our actions are not based on our political views; it’s based on legality for the county.”