New law leaves police in the dark |

New law leaves police in the dark

DUFFY HAYESsummit daily news
A group of men wait in the shadows at a Mexican customs station after being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in Arizona and returned to Mexico in Nogales, Mexico, Thursday, May 18, 2006. President George Bush is visiting the Arizona border Thursday, amid an increasingly emotional debate about immigration legislation. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SUMMIT COUNTY – A flurry of state bills that aim to tighten illegal immigration controls are on the desk of Gov. Bill Owens, but the one he recently signed into law is creating a note of confusion among local law enforcement.Signed into effect May 1, the so-called “sanctuary bill” adds broader requirements for police to report suspected illegal immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).But like many sweeping laws that come down from the state Legislature, it’s the devilish details that create all the confusion. This bill is more muddled than most, though.Previously, local law enforcement would report folks whose status they suspect, but only when the alleged crime was a felony or involved domestic violence. The new law seems to compel officers to report nearly every arrestee they suspect of being here illegally.”The vast majority of our arrests are misdemeanors,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor. “And I think this new law is more encompassing. It’s not fully-fleshed out in my mind.”

Minor is reading the new law as requiring him to potentially have to report to ICE a greater number of people that his officers come in contact with. After his office makes a notification, the ball’s in ICE’s court then as to what to do with the suspected illegal alien. ICE usually decides to put a “detainer” on that person, which prohibits the person in question from bonding out of jail.That’s where Minor’s antennae start to rise.”I’m concerned because I do not know whether (ICE) has the resources to deal with this potential inundation,” Minor worried.His worst-case scenario is one where cops from across the state boost their notifications to ICE, to the point where that federal agency’s resources are worn thin. Then, all the people designated for detainment clog the confines of the Summit County Jail.Minor says the county books about 3,000 people into the jail every year. The jail sees between 40 to 50 inmates per day on average, taking up about half of the jail’s 96 total beds.”Will this law back up our jail?” Minor asked. “I don’t know, but if it does, it will impact our budget.”

Whether ICE has the resources to handle an additional load is just one confusion created by the new law. Minor also has questions about what exactly constitutes an offense requiring notification of ICE.”What do we do with someone with a criminal summons for an act on the street, when we just cite and release them?” he asked. “It’s technically an arrest.”And how do officers truly ascertain someone’s status?Minor says that his office is still working on a policy, but preliminarily they’re going to accept any “non-fake” driver’s license from any state as proof of legal status.One aspect of the law does seem clear to Minor, though. Each year, his office will now have to file a formal report with the General Assembly about the number of people they report to ICE. He said that his office is simply adding another code to their records management system to keep track of that information.

But that seems to be the only thing for sure about this new law. Minor said he’s recently been in contact with sheriffs and officers in other counties around the state, collectively trying to come up with some uniformity about how to act on the new legislation. He also said that the larger Class 1 counties in the Denver area have the resources – legal and otherwise – to shake out some of the new law’s more confusing aspects. Summit County would likely take the lead of those counties, Minor said.Minor also put in a call to the regional office of ICE, in an effort to gage their ability to handle new notifications.”I tried to call ICE about a week ago, to ask what’s the best way to get in touch with them,” Minor said. “And they haven’t called me back.”ICE also did not respond to inquiries from the Summit Daily.Duffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-4621 or at

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