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County sheriffs across Arkansas and the U.S. have exercised some discretion in how they enforce immigration detainers issued by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Ahead of the Pulaski County sheriff's primary Tuesday, both candidates said they will stay the course under the agency's current policy, implemented in July 2014. Last year, with that policy in place, 63 people were picked up from the county jail by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to data released last week.

There's a variety of ways to cooperate, or not cooperate, with federal immigration agents.

Sebastian County, for instance, contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be a holding facility for the federal agency.

Washington County participates in a federal program that deputizes local law enforcement officials to act as immigration officers.

That includes the power to interrogate anyone taken to jail and believed by an officer to be in the country illegally, and to serve warrants of arrest for immigration violations, according to the memorandum of agreement between the agencies.

In Craighead County, jail staff members might observe an issue with a detainee that "would rise to the occasion of alerting ICE," Capt. Justin Rolland said.

That could be a fake Social Security number, a fake driver's license number, or if someone's identity can't be determined, he said.

If the federal immigration authority issues an immigration detainer -- a document that asks the jail to hold someone for a certain amount of time -- the jail complies, as it would with any other agency, Rolland said.

Pulaski County's immigration detainer policy was written "without any emotion in it," said Maj. Matthew Briggs, who oversees the jail.

Briggs helped craft the guidelines when concerns arose that holding a person on just an immigration detainer, which does not have a judge's signature, could be unconstitutional, he said.

With immigration decisions, at one end of the political spectrum is someone like Joe Arpaio, Briggs said. The former Arizona sheriff made national headlines, and was federally investigated, for being notoriously tough on people who were in the country illegally.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are sanctuary cities.

In general, law enforcement officials in a sanctuary city or county limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement to shield illegal aliens, especially those deemed to be low-priority, from deportation.

Pulaski County isn't in either camp.

"All we've said is, we're going to follow the law," Briggs said.

When someone is arrested and taken to the Pulaski County jail, that person's name, Social Security number and fingerprints are entered into a crime database that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can access.

The federal agency is notified if someone it has flagged is being held in Pulaski County, Briggs said.

If the federal agency wants the jail to hold a certain person after he's released from criminal charges, it issues a detainer.

The document asks the jail's staff members to keep that person for 48 hours. But in 2014, Pulaski County decided it would no longer honor those detainers alone.

"Particularly, we will not hold persons to allow your office to investigate the immigration status of a detainee," then-chief of detention Randy Morgan wrote in a letter to a Homeland Security supervisor.

The jail will hold someone for 48 hours only if there's an arrest warrant, an order of deportation or a notice to appear before a court that issued a charging document, the letter says.

If just a detainer exists, jail staff members notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement before the person is processed out of the jail -- which takes from 30 minutes to several hours. If an agent is en route to take custody of the person, the jail will hold him for "a short time" but "not longer than it would take to out-process a detainee under normal circumstances," the letter says.

Last year, 93 people booked into the jail were flagged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to data provided by Briggs. The federal agency picked up about two-thirds of those people.

Last Tuesday, during a countywide criminal justice meeting, Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner asked whether the number of people taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement had increased in recent months because of rhetoric from the White House.

Data show that the 2017 numbers were fairly standard, Briggs said. After the policy changed in July 2014, 33 people were picked up during the remainder of that year. In 2015, 57 people were picked up, and in 2016, 58 people were picked up.

Once someone is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's custody, the sheriff's office does not know or track what happens to that person.

Tuesday is the Democratic primary to determine a successor for Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay. With no registered Republican challengers, Tuesday is effectively election day.

Carl Minden, a major with the sheriff's office, and Eric Higgins, a retired assistant Little Rock police chief, are vying for the spot.

The newly elected sheriff will review jail policies, like the immigration detainer policy, and decide what course of action to take.

"If the sheriff says 'from now on we're holding ICE [detainees],' then a new letter comes out," Briggs said.

Reached by phone last week, Minden and Higgins said that if elected, they'd follow the current policy.

"I would say Pulaski County is in compliance with what the federal government wants," Minden said.

"We're not trying to overreach that standard. We're not trying to under-reach that standard," he said. And there's no chance Pulaski County will become a contracted Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility, Minden said.

Higgins said the federal immigration authority would be handled "similarly to other police agencies that may be looking for someone."

If there are no charges filed on a person, "we're not going to hold them," Higgins said. If federal immigration agents "want to make it down there before they're released," he said, "then so be it."

A Section on 05/21/2018

Print Headline: Jails in state differ on handling of aliens

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