U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has criticized Clatsop County for not cooperating with the federal agency’s requests to detain undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, federal deportation officers arrested a Mexican national with prior criminal convictions, including two for driving under the influence of intoxicants, outside Clatsop County Circuit Court after the man had appeared for a matter related to a criminal charge.
Explaining the incident to The Daily Astorian, which had asked about the arrest, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement: “Since Clatsop County does not honor ICE detainers and releases criminal aliens who pose a potential public safety threat, and because many of the agency’s arrest targets provide false address information, locating these individuals at a courthouse is, in some instances, the agency’s only likely means of affecting their capture.”
Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin said, “I can’t believe they put out a statement like that.”
Tension on immigration
The knock from Immigration and Customs Enforcement illustrates the tension between local law enforcement agencies and the federal government over immigration law. Legal challenges and complaints from human-rights advocates led President Barack Obama to narrow requests for ICE detainers at local jails, but President Donald Trump has taken a hard-line policy toward deporting undocumented immigrants and wants more cooperation from local law enforcement.
Bergin would like the Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the county jail, to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But Oregon counties stepped back from ICE detainers after a federal court ruling in 2014.
The U.S. District Court in Portland found that Clackamas County had violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a woman kept in custody at the county jail in 2012 on an ICE detainer to determine whether she should be subject to deportation. The woman had been arrested for violating a domestic violence restraining order, had pleaded guilty, was sentenced, and was eligible for release, but she stayed in jail because of the ICE detainer until she was released to deportation agents.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures — including detention — without probable cause.
Clackamas County had argued that it was following a federal directive that was mandatory, but the federal court ruled, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has acknowledged, that ICE detainers are not mandatory on local law enforcement.
After the federal court ruling, several county sheriffs announced they would not honor requests for ICE holds without a warrant or a court order.
“Clatsop is not unique,” Virginia Kice, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, said. “All of the counties in Oregon don’t honor ICE detainers. It’s just one of the reasons we are utilizing leads to go to the courthouse to make arrests. We have to invest time and resources.”
‘Kicking in the door’
Bergin said that if Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows up with “a warrant in their hands, we will be the first ones kicking in the door.”
But, without it, Clatsop County could get embroiled in a lawsuit. “Everybody’s getting sued by all these left-wing liberal groups,” he said.
“I would rather see every criminal illegal alien removed from our county, but at this time I have to protect my guys,” he said.
“Now if we have a really, really bad guy, my office is going to do everything it can to make sure that that person goes into custody, stays in custody,” Bergin said.
Kice said Immigration and Customs Enforcement would prefer to make arrests at a secure environment, such as a jail, rather than outside courthouses. “It would be safer for the bystanders, officers and the detainee,” she said.
The man arrested Tuesday had been deported before, ICE’s statement said. The agency’s deportation officers “sought to arrest the man outside the courthouse after earlier efforts to locate him proved unsuccessful.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel determine where and how to make arrests “on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all aspects of the situation, including the prospective target’s criminal history; safety considerations; and any sensitivities involving the arrest location,” the agency wrote.
ICE often does not know where suspects live, and many are not regularly employed, Kice said.
“We’re dealing with individuals who have a long criminal history and who are savvy at avoiding law enforcement,” she said.
Without providing specific details, ICE agents informed the Astoria Police Department of an upcoming arrest in the city.
“ICE does call us occasionally to tell us they are going to do something somewhere,” Deputy Chief Eric Halverson said. “Typically, plainclothes agents call us to let us know they’ll be in our neighborhood.”
An Oregon law approved in 1987 prohibits state and local law enforcement from using public money to pursue and arrest people whose only violation is that they are in the United States illegally. The law does not prevent law enforcement from exchanging information with the federal government on the immigration status of people arrested for crimes, or from making arrests on warrants or court orders for criminal violations of federal immigration law.
In response to President Trump’s immigration crackdown and threats to withhold federal money from so-called sanctuary cities and states, Gov. Kate Brown in February issued an executive order expanding the law to apply to all state agencies.
Clatsop County Board of Commissioners Chairman Scott Lee said he supports Brown’s executive order, one of several declarations by Democratic governors and mayors against the Republican president.
Sheriff Bergin does not support the sanctuary concept.
“I would be the first one to eliminate the sanctuary city, or the sanctuary county, or the sanctuary state, if it was within my power, because I believe it’s wrong,” the sheriff said. “I believe it is an injustice, and I believe that we are protecting individuals that aren’t even legally here a lot of the time. And it’s just ridiculous. It’s ludicrous.”
The Astoria City Council chose not to designate Astoria a sanctuary city, a decision that Lower Columbia Hispanic Council Executive Director Jorge Gutierrez endorsed.
The City Council on Monday instead adopted a resolution, introduced by Gutierrez, reaffirming the city’s inclusive stance toward immigrants. However, City Councilors Cindy Price and Tom Brownson acknowledged that the resolution does not prevent ICE agents from detaining and deporting local undocumented immigrants. Price advised undocumented immigrants to become documented and to stay out of the justice system.