UNFUNDED MANDATE: Immigration order could cost county millions as sheriff faces dilemma

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BY DANIEL SALAZAR
dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com

The Sedgwick County sheriff is facing a choice after a presidential executive order on immigration enforcement and “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Sheriff Jeff Easter said his department could hold people in jail longer to give immigration officers more time to arrive but risk getting sued by people who would otherwise be released. Or the sheriff’s office could continue releasing those people without waiting for the feds, which could put millions of federal dollars at risk.

Several Sedgwick County officials aren’t thrilled by the choice.

“It seems like we have taxpayer dollars at risk regardless,” Commissioner Richard Ranzau said.

An executive order signed by President Trump last week threatened “sanctuary jurisdictions” with losing eligibility to receive federal grants.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” according to the executive order. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

The sheriff’s office in 2014 decided to partially honor “detainer” requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when someone in the country illegally is about to be released from jail.

The sheriff’s office would not honor ICE requests to keep people in custody for an additional 48 hours. Easter says multiple cases have ruled that holding people longer based solely on those requests is illegal.

“If we get paperwork that says ‘release them’ … we immediately e-mail ICE to say, ‘Hey, these folks are getting ready to be released. Come get them,’ ” Easter said.

Easter said those people are released from jail two to five hours later.

They (ICE) do not come and get these individuals in that time frame,” Easter said. “They wouldn’t even come out and get them. That’s been going on for years.”

Easter said he and District Attorney Marc Bennett have largely given up on calling ICE, because they can’t get an answer from them.

“If ICE isn’t taking care of federal law that they can only enforce and now we have this issue that’s being shoved down that it’s all the locals’ fault – that’s a problem,” Easter said.

Read more from The Wichita Eagle here.