Maricopa County Sheriff's Office: No more 'courtesy holds' for federal immigration agent
Maricopa County jails will no longer detain people flagged by federal authorities as a courtesy for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sheriff Paul Penzone said Friday evening.
Penzone told reporters that earlier Friday his office had been advised by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office that he faced a “threat of litigation'' because of the procedure, which forced the Sheriff's Office to change its policy.
Individuals no longer will be detained beyond the time that they otherwise should be released for an offense.
“There’s no further authority to detain an individual ...” Penzone said. “We are following our legal obligation, to process that individual for release.”
Penzone said he alerted ICE officials to the change Friday, and the new policy would be effective immediately.
The Democratic sheriff's brief remarks underscored the change in direction at the agency since he defeated Joe Arpaio, the longtime sheriff whose hard-line stance on immigrants cost taxpayers millions of dollars as a result of federal sanctions and legal fees.
The action drew praise from immigration-rights advocates but raised concerns for Republicans, such as state Rep.John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, a co-sponsor of the controversial Senate Bill 1070.
Changes to the process
The previous process was known as an ICE detainer.
After an individual is booked into a Maricopa County jail, the person receives a screening from ICE to determine whether he or she might be in the country illegally. If ICE flagged the individual, the Maricopa County jails would hold the individual for the federal government for up to 48 hours after the time the person otherwise would have been released.
If ICE finds an individual is in the country illegally, the process can initiate deportation proceedings.
Penzone said an ICE agent will remain in the jails and still will screen everyone who is booked. The changes come on the back end, when the individual is to be released.
Penzone said ICE agents will receive a notification when the individual is to be let out of jail, but the detainee will no longer be held more than a legal citizen would be kept.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office will not facilitate the transfer to ICE, Penzone said. He could not offer clarification on how ICE agents would collect those the agency deemed fit for deportation.
“ICE will have to take a more aggressive position on how to act on those,” Penzone said.
A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office said there had been 2,581 Maricopa County jail releases to ICE in 2016 and 249 to date in 2017.
Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, a spokesman for ICE in Phoenix, said the agency had no immediate comment Friday night.
Lawsuits regarding ICE detainers
Although Penzone noted that it was litigation that sparked the change in policy, he was unable to cite a specific lawsuit and referred questions to the County Attorney’s Office.
The County Attorney's Office did not have immediate comment when contacted by The Republic on Friday night. Spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto said the office might not have a statement until Tuesday, citing Presidents' Day weekend.
But late last year, a 31-year-old woman named Jacinta Gonzalez Goodman filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office alleging that the jail’s ICE detainers were unconstitutional.
Gonzalez Goodman was arrested in March during a political rally protesting then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. Gonzalez Goodman, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen, told The Arizona Republic she was accused of blocking the highway along with two white men who were not questioned by ICE in the jails. The men were released from custody the same evening, she said.
Gonzalez Goodman said she was arrested and held overnight in jail without probable cause based on a detainer request. According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez Goodman should have been freed the evening prior, when a judge released her on her own recognizance.
Reached Friday evening, Gonzalez Goodman said the change was “a great step in the right direction.”
"The sheriff is absolutely doing the right thing by having any detention to have constitutional standards,” she said.
Gonzalez Goodman, an immigration activist for Mijente, said she still had “major issues with ICE being continued to be allowed inside in the jails.”
She said ICE agents shouldn’t be allowed to go on a “fishing expedition” and should be forced to have a judicial warrant before the screening.
The MCSO adjustment comes as President Trump pushes a more aggressive police force to tackle illegal immigration. A recent executive order tasked the Department of Homeland security to enter into agreements with local police that would deputize officers as federal immigration agents.
Penzone said the recent policy changes with ICE have nothing to do with the Trump administration.
SB 1070 co-sponsor: 'Very disappointed'
Kavanagh said he was "very disappointed" in Penzone's action and might attempt to take away state funding from the agency.
Kavanagh, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 1070, said he planned to check with attorneys but believes Penzone's action violates that law. Many elements of the tough immigration-enforcement bill were whittled away in legal challenges. However, provisions remain that require local law enforcement to cooperate fully on immigration matters with ICE, Kavanagh said.
Unless Penzone rescinds the order, Kavanagh said, he planned to contact the state attorney general to request that an action be started to withhold state shared-revenue funding.
A wave of reaction from immigrant-rights supporters
Ruben L. Reyes, chairman of the board of the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the chapter supports Penzone's move.
“It sends a strong signal that the MCSO is intent on complying with a federal judge’s orders in the spirit and application of the order,” Reyes said in a statement texted to The Republic. “This also sends a message to immigrants and mix status families that they can report crime in their neighborhood without being reported themselves.”
Francisca Porchas, an organizer with Puente Human Rights Movement, said the group is celebrating Penzone's announcement as a win for migrants who fear deportation, as well as for citizens who should not be profiled as a potential undocumented immigrant because of the color of their skin or the sound of their last name.
Puente, which advocates for migrant rights, is known for leading Arizona actions to unseat former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and holding protests calling to stop all deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Last week, the group was at the center of a national story when it blocked buses leaving the Phoenix ICE facility in attempt to prevent Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos of Mesa, who had lived in the United States for more than two decades, from being deported.
“We think it’s great because we have always been against ICE holds,” she said. “This is a significant victory for the people of Maricopa County and for the undocumented people of Maricopa County for their due process to be honored and for them to be released.”
Carlos Garcia, an immigration-rights activist also with Puente Arizona, also hailed the sheriff’s decision.
“This is a great first step in getting past (Joe) Arpaio’s legacy of racial profiling and separating our families,” he said. “I think the next step is to get ICE out of Fourth Avenue jails. There is no reason for them to be there.”
Penzone's predecessor, Arpaio, was known for his hard-line stance and zealous policing tactics, which landed him in federal court on various allegations of racial profiling, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars on reforms and attorneys' fees.
In 2013, a U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found Arpaio’s office had targeted Hispanics during immigration operations. Snow also ordered deputies to refrain from arresting or detaining individuals solely on the belief that they are undocumented. Instead, they must also be suspected of a state crime.
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