Teller County Wins Legal Battle to Continue Prisoner Detainment Agreement With ICE

Concerns Mounting, Though, Over Pending “Anti-Teller” State Legislation

Trevor Phipps

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell is waving a big victory flag over the outcome of a lengthy, several-year legal fight with  the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) regarding the detention of illegal immigrants at the jail in Divide.

But political sparks are still igniting over this heated issue, with the possibility that Teller County could actually emerge as the legal victors, but then lose the overall war at the state level.

Since 2018, the ACLU and the sheriff have been fighting back and forth over the sheriff’s participation in a partnership with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, mainly dealing the detainment of certain prisoners who are regarded as illegal aliens or who don’t have proper immigration status.

Teller currently houses one of the two immigration facilities in the state for ICE detainees.

Earlier this month, District Judge Scott Sells heard the ACLU’s lawsuit case for the second time during a three day long trial. The judge’s initial ruling to throw out the lawsuit was repealed by the state Appeals Court and sent back to District Court.  Last week, the judge announced that he clearly sided with the sheriff’s office and deemed the department’s 287g agreement with ICE legal.

However, even though the county has embraced this recent victory, the issue is far from being concluded. After the judge rendered his decision, a spokesperson for the ACLU stated that the organization plans to bring the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals once again.

And, there is also currently a bill, dubbed by some critics as the “Anti-Teller” law, that is making its way through the state legislative process. If passed, it would essentially make the sheriff’s partnership with ICE illegal under state law. House Bill 2023-100 was introduced earlier this year and it has already made it through a key legislative committee, despite the fact that the sheriff and the three county commissioners testifying against it. This opposition has spread to other rural leaders.

The bill still has to make its way through a Democrat-controlled state House and Senate. The county commissioners and the sheriff have said that they plan to go to the state capitol and fight the passage of the law during every step of the way.

They made that point quite clear at last week’s county commissioners meeting, as the panel maintained they are constantly fighting bills dealing with ideological stances that don’t meet current state realities (see related story). The commissioners have spent a good amount of their time in Denver this year, brandishing their legislative swords.

In his decision, Judge Sells ruled in the sheriff’s favor and granted a declaratory judgment on all of the sheriff’s claims in the lawsuit. “I find plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof by a preponderance of evidence on any of their respective claims,” the judge said in his ruling.

The judge ruled that the sheriff has the legal authority to enter into the 287g agreement with ICE and that Colorado law does not prohibit such partnership. He also ruled that when the deputies perform functions under the 287g agreement they are acting as de facto federal ICE agents under federal supervision, which is not against state law.

He also upheld the sheriff’s claim that a Form I-200 Warrant for arrest of an (illegal) alien is “not a request but is a valid federal arrest warrant authorized by federal law and that these federal arrest warrants do not have to be signed by a judge.”

After the ruling, Mikesell applauded the judge’s decision that the 287g agreement is a function of his statutory duty to keep and preserve peace within the county. “This ruling allows me to continue to protect and serve this community,” the sheriff said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for our community. I don’t believe in giving ground or backing down to those who would attempt to bully us into inaction.”

County Commissioner Dan Williams was also pleased about the judge’s recent decision and reiterated the fact that the commissioners plan to continue to oppose the House bill that is aimed at ending the sheriff’s partnership with ICE.

“This bill is wrong and would mark the first time that the state of Colorado would move to restrict a county government from entering into a legal contract with the federal government to help enforce the law of our land,” Williams stated. “We have relationships with the DEA, FBI, Federal Marshalls, the Department of Defense and others and this is a dangerous precedent. Secondly, this bill targets one county, Teller County, and that is not how Colorado has operated in the past and it should not operate that way now despite a well-intentioned legislator’s idea.”

Last week, the sheriff also released a video during which he explained why the bill should be voted down.

“Their arguments don’t make any sense, and I hope that logic prevails over some of this stuff,” Mikesell said in the video. “They are making bills and doing all sorts of things to make Colorado more of a sanctuary state. But what they are really creating is more of a lawless epidemic. And then the fact that all of these people are coming here thinking we are a sanctuary state; none of this stops ICE from continuing to arrest people. It just makes it more difficult for local law enforcement to be able to work with ICE to stop these issues from occurring.”

The sheriff said that if the bill is passed it would essentially close down the two immigration facilities in the state (one is in Teller County and one is in Denver). “When there are no facilities in Colorado for people to be held, they are going to put them in a bus and ship them to another state wherever there is a bed,” Mikesell said. “They then will go before a judge there and be released, but they will be released there. Some of these people are sole breadwinners for their families. So, all of a sudden now this family doesn’t even know where they are headed because ICE doesn’t know where the beds are at. And now it is going to extend their court period and it is going to create a very big back log of when they will see a judge and go through these processes. So, it actually hurts these people.”

The state’s actions to ship illegal immigrants out of Colorado to other big cities, such as Chicago and New York City, has already raised the ire of leaders from key municipalities and states, even in Democratic-controlled areas.