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The history of Teller County Sheriff’s battle in court over immigration enforcement

TELLER COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Wednesday was day two of an ongoing court trial between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing six Teller County taxpayers, and their elected Sheriff Jason Mikesell.

Mikesell is accused of enforcing federal immigration law by unlawfully entering into a 287 G agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ACLU claims Mikesell is violating multiple Colorado laws by holding undocumented immigrants inside the jail when a request is sent by federal immigration authorities.

For much of Wednesday, former TCSO lieutenant Laura Hammond took the stand to testify about her duties as an assigned "Designated Immigration Officer" inside the Teller County Jail. Hammond testified that she was able to initiate investigations into a person's "alienage and removability" when they are booked in on state charges.

Hammond said she, or other TCSO deputies, were not able to arrest anyone in the community solely based on their immigration status, only once they were booked into the jail could that process begin. She testified that conversations with someone suspected of being in the country illegally had to be "consensual" and did not violate any of their rights.

ACLU attorneys claim in court documents that Sheriff Mikesell held multiple immigrants in jail in 2019 and 2020 when they were legally able to bond out of jail on their state charges. Hammond testified that these immigrants' length of time spent in jail was not affected by their involvement with ICE.

Hammond testified that ICE had simply sent the Sheriff's Office a request to hold the "body" of the inmate and did not constitute a "warrant" for their arrest. She said many of the immigrants listed were arrested in El Paso County and were being held, at the request of ICE, at the Teller County Jail. Hammond said the 287 G program, which is at question in the lawsuit, had no impact on the undocumented immigrant's length of stay in jail.

History of Litigation

The three-day-trial is not the first time Mikesell has entered a court of law on immigration matters. Back in August of 2018, Mikesell sat in front of an El Paso County Judge and testified to why cooperation between local law enforcement and federal authorities was necessary.

"If the U.S. government says this person is a danger and that we need to hold them to find out their status or have a federal case against somebody, why wouldn't I hold them for them and allow them time to pick this party up? Why would I just release him back on the street for something else to happen," Mikesell told KRDO in 2018.

In that case, the ACLU argued that the Sheriff was violating the rights of Leonardo Canseco, who was held at the request of ICE in the Teller County Jail after being booked in on state crimes.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, argued that Colorado law does not allow TCSO, or any other sheriff in the state, to hold someone for ICE if they post bond.

In that case, the El Paso County Judge ruled in favor of Mikesell and stated that the ACLU did not prove that Mikesell violated any state statutes by placing Canseco on an "ICE Hold."

Teller County Judge Scott Sells is now tasked with interpreting this current case based on the establishment of a 2019 piece of legislation.

The law titled "Protect Colorado Residents From Federal Government Overreach" prevents local law enforcement from placing people in their county jails on 48 holds at the request of federal immigration authorities. 

Recently, 13 Investigates spoke with Adrienne Benavidez, a former House member from Denver and months prime sponsor of the legislation.

"If you've been arrested and you're being held on some charge and you're in custody of the sheriff's office in jail, you're not being held on immigration matters under an arrest," Rep. Benavidez said.

Before the law, the 48-hour holds, or "ICE holds," were used when an undocumented immigrant could bond out of jail on state charges or be released once they served their time or their case was dismissed.

This allowed ICE to detain undocumented immigrants and place them in the custody of the federal government and house them in ICE facilities until appearing before an immigration judge.

Annie Kurtz, attorney for the ACLU in the current case, claims the Sheriff is in direct violation of this law by cooperating with ICE after the law was codified.

"That law specifically says a Colorado law enforcement officer, can't arrest or detain someone on the basis of one of these various ICE forms because they're not warrants. They're not signed by a judge. They're not based on any kind of alleged crimes," Kurtz said. "That's exactly what the jail is doing. They're using those exact forms to detain and arrest people when they should otherwise be released."

Mikesell told 13 Investigates he will not make any statements about the ongoing litigation until the conclusion of the court trial on Thursday afternoon. At that time, Judge Sells is expected to make a ruling on whether or not the Sheriff has violated Colorado law.

If the judge rules in favor of the ACLU, Mikesell will be forced to end the 287 G program and his cooperation with ICE.

"He has said he's not going to stop his program unless the court orders him to," Kurtz said.

Related Articles:

Teller County Sheriff faces ACLU lawsuit regarding his agreement with ICE

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.

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