The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office announces a change in practice for handling inmate detainers issued by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
For inmates suspected by ICE of being in the country illegally and subject to removal or deportation, ICE has had a longstanding policy to request that jails hold such inmates up to 48 hours beyond the time their criminal charges are resolved in order to allow ICE time to take the person into custody.
The Sheriff’s Office is discontinuing the practice of honoring ICE requests to detain persons after criminal charges or other holds are resolved. At the time of this press release, there are no inmates being held exclusively on ICE detainers, and three inmates are held on pending criminal charges along with an ICE detainer. The ICE detainers assigned to these inmates will be dropped immediately.
Sheriff Edwards has spoken with professionals in law enforcement, local citizens, and consulted with legal counsel in reaching the decision to no longer honor ICE detainers. In January, the Sheriff convened a Citizens Input Committee and charged them to consider community safety and provide policy recommendations that serve the best interests of Athens-Clarke County. Although the Committee could not reach a consensus on honoring ICE detainers, they were in agreement in recommending that the Sheriff comply with state law and seek the opinion of Athens-Clarke County legal counsel to adopt a policy that conforms with such legal opinion.
To that end, the Sheriff has considered the advice of legal counsel and has concluded that there is case law that has identified gaps in the current system that do not allow the Sheriff’s Office to hold individuals solely on a detainer from ICE. As such, the Sheriff wishes to avoid the potential risk to the county of civil litigation relating to ICE detainers.
However, the Sheriff will honor ICE detainers that are accompanied by a judicial warrant or an order from a court. He will also continue to comply with state law, which requires a query to the Law Enforcement Support Center of the United States Department of Homeland Security for any foreign national brought to the Clarke County Jail who lacks documentation of lawful status.
The Sheriff is confident that his decision will not designate Athens-Clarke County as a “sanctuary city” or as having a “sanctuary policy.” Federal and state statutes cite the failure of communications and reporting of immigration status information to immigration authorities as a threshold for sanctuary designation. The Sheriff intends to communicate and report immigration status as previously practiced, but will not honor ICE requests to detain persons after criminal charges or other holds are resolved unless such requests are accompanied by a judicial warrant or court order.
The Sheriff values partnerships with the law enforcement community and respects the role of ICE in keeping our country safe, but believes further resolution from lawmakers or the courts is necessary in order to honor ICE detainers not supported by a judicial warrant or court order.