Teller County’s Agreement with ICE Gets ICED; Questions Persist About Fiscal Impacts
Trevor Phipps and Rick Langenberg
Teller County officials got hit with an expected political curve ball from the state last week as Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a proposed bill into law, not permitting local governments to partner with federal immigration authorities.
This will have future impacts on the jail in Divide, one of two facilities in the state that engages in these types of partnerships with the feds regarding illegal immigration.
When the bill was first proposed many coined it the second “Anti-Teller Bill” due to the fact that Teller is the only county in the state that has a 287g agreement with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
In essence, this agreement allows certain deputies of the sheriff’s department to act as federal immigration agents in dealing with possible immigration violations in the processing of inmates at the jail in Divide. It doesn’t expand beyond the confines of the jail. Under this arrangement, a temporary hold could be placed on releasing inmates who may be in violation of ICE procedures.
Polis issued a letter explaining why he signed the bill last week that outline concerns about continuing government arrangements with ICE. He indicated his support for this position several years ago.
But in his letter, Polis did say that he was concerned about the impacts the passage of the bill could have on Teller County.
“I do have concerns that this bill will cause financial hardship to the one county that has an active agreement with ICE,” the governor wrote. “To that end, I am committed to working with Teller County and call on the General Assembly to address budget shortfalls that may result from the signing of this law.”
But lacking in the letter is what the call for addressing budget shortfalls entails. Questions also have been raised by local leaders about the letter itself, issues that could get resolved in the coming weeks. The Teller County commissioners and the sheriff had previously submitted a formal request to the governor, asking for a veto of this bill.
What Will the Bill Do Now That It’s Passed?
Currently, ICE can contract out a certain amount of its detention capacity to state and local governments that can then subcontract with immigration dentation facilities that are ran by private entities to detain individuals for federal civil immigration purposes. Once it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, the bill will make any contracts between a local or state government agency and detention centers illegal.
The law would prohibit selling any government property for the purpose of establishing an immigration detention facility owned by a private entity. Governments would also not be allowed to pay costs related to a detention facility or receive any payment related to the detention of individuals in an immigration facility.
Proponents Said Detention Facilities Should Not Be Paid By Taxpayers
According to Democrat Rep. Naquetta Ricks, who represents Arapahoe County, the bill is good for Colorado and other states have been looking at similar measures. She said she decided to sponsor the bill after she was approached last year and she decided it was a good move for the state.
“The aim of this bill is to stop the detention of undocumented immigrants in Colorado, prohibiting agreements with ICE and local governments, sheriff’s departments, etc.,” Ricks said. “It is an issue of fairness, freedom and opportunity. People are deprived of their liberty. They are separated from their loved ones and put at risk in ICE custody. I want to be clear that this is for civil matters. It has nothing to do with anyone who is involved in the criminal system or has committed criminal acts against the United States, in Colorado or anywhere.”
Ricks said that immigration detention is a federal matter, but ICE uses contracts with local governments for detention centers to further their reach over the immigration system. “Our opinion is that our tax dollars need to be used for strengthening our families and communities and not for targeting, detaining and deporting our immigrant friends, neighbors, and co-workers,” Rep. Ricks explained. “Local communities know what we need and we need to invest our tax dollars into education, housing, great infrastructure and healthcare programs.”
Representatives from Teller County Spoke Against the Bill Every Step of the Way
But Teller County leaders, including all three of the commissioners and Sheriff Jason Mikesell, have adamantly opposed the law, which had its genesis several years ago. They have made a number of presentations, and previously thought they had an agreement in place, moving the law forward, but making an exception for Teller County. But this deal, which even included some support from Democratic leaders, fell through during a vote by state lawmakers
Sheriff Mikesell earlier in the process produced a video on You Tube, explaining why he thinks the bill is a bad move for the state. “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.”
He said that if the bill was passed it would essentially close down the two immigration facilities in the state (one is in Teller County and one is in Aurora). “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.”
However, Rep. Ricks said the facility in Aurora would remain open even if the bill passed. She also said that since the bill only applies to civil matters, its passage would only affect a handful of the people the county has detained for ICE matters.
This issue, though, is expected to spark much commentary by the commissioners in upcoming meetings. They have not been shy about endorsing their support for the sheriff’s department in its dealings with ICE, which only apply to inmates processed at the jail in Divide.
Interviews and parts of this article were first published by The Maverick Observer.