King: 22 sheriffs won't honor immigration law: BV sheriff explains ICE holds, 'They are usually back in time for supper'

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
By DANA LARSEN Pilot-Tribune Editor

Congressman Steve King is bristling over 22 Iowa sheriffs who he says are refusing to enforce federal illegal immigration detainers.

Buena Vista County Sheriff Doug Simons feels his county is following the letter of the law.The BV County office does not track down and arrest people only because of their immigration status, he stresses, but when a person has been arrested on an indictable criminal charge, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are notified.

In an article written for the National Review website, King claimed that a "systematic breakdown of immigration law enforcement under the Obama Administration has wrought severe consequences."

"Now, a new front in this war against the rule of law has come to Iowa. Twenty-two of 99 Iowa county sheriffs have bowed to the ACLU by refusing to honor ICE detainers on criminal aliens."

He said that the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Iowa sheriffs claiming that ICE detainers were not mandatory to enforce because there is no penalty against sheriff departments that do not comply.

King said lack of a penalty is no excuse for not enforcing the law, and feels this allows dangerous criminals to go free and potentially harm other victims. "In fiscal year 2013 alone, 212,455 ICE detainer orders were filed. Imagine a world where all of these criminal aliens were immediately set free."

BV Sheriff Simons said that his office received the ACLU letter about four months ago. It was spurred by a court case in Oregon where several sheriffs' offices were refusing to honor detainers.

Simons said that he had met with County Attorney Dave Patton and his staff at that time to research the situation and make sure his office was acting correctly in illegal immigrant situations.

He said the policy only involves people who have been brought in to the county jail on indictable charges - not things like traffic tickets.
"Say there is a forgery or identity theft charge, for example, and it is found that the person is here illegally. Then ICE is contacted, a hold is placed on them, and in the event that bond has been posted or the case is dismissed , we notify ICE and they come generally within 24 hours. The person is transported to Sioux City, and honestly, once the person is identified, most everyone is released.

"They are usually back in time for supper," said Simons.

His department will only keep the individual on detainer for 48 hours; if ICE does not arrive in that time to pick them up, the person would be released or allowed to bond out, the sheriff said - which meets the requirements of the current law. "The request is for 48 hours for ICE to come get them, if they are not here - bye," Simons said.

The immigrants charged are no different than U.S. citizens charged, and cannot be made to sit in a cell indefinitely if bond has been set or their charge resolved. "I won't let that happen," he said.

Simons is unsure why the 22 sheriffs - including those of Polk and Story counties, he said - are not following the detainer requirements.

He said he felt the legal specifications are "crystal clear."

The local sheriff has no complaints on the system.

"ICE has a job to do, and that is to document and identify people. We need ICE's help to do that. Our job is to work with other authorities on the various levels, as we would hope they would work with us."

He stressed that the criminal case comes first, before any illegal immigration action. If a person held in the local jail is sent to prison, the ICE detainer goes with them, and immigration issues are dealt with after the convict serves the time.

Simons does not feel it is his office's duty to round up law-abiding people to determine whether they are illegal immigrants.

"That's up to Immigration. They are hired and paid for that. It's not a task we should be doing," he said.

He noted that immigration policy is something of a chameleon, changing with the political tides and each White House administration. "It changes like the weather," Simons said, "but our enforcement has been pretty consistent. Is someone breaks the law on an indictable charge we will investigate [immigration status] - we have victims in those cases," he said, as opposed to arresting people on immigration status alone.

The cases are much more rare than people probably think, he suggests - in 2013 his department handled just eight ICE holds with local jail inmates picked up by the feds.

There are cases where individuals who have been deported in the past are arrested again in the area, but that is very unusual.

The sheriff feels ICE is "very lenient" in letting people go once they have been taken to Sioux City for processing - and he said he doesn't have a problem with that.

Regardless of people's immigration or citizenship status, he said, his department is charged with protecting everyone.

"We all have to live her together," he said. "We represent everybody in this county, legal or otherwise."

Currently the emphasis with ICE is to take people who have had their cases handled by the justice system, and get them proper documentation and work papers so they can return to the community and live legally, he said.

"If they are out of my jail, I'm happy," Simons said.

There is little to be gained in splitting apart families by deporting one person, many feel.

"I am very sympathetic to that - and it's been a long time since we have seen that being the case," the sheriff said. "The idea is that the sooner we get these people into the system and resolved, the sooner we can get them back with their families."