Updated June 12, 8:30 a.m.
Hennepin County has become the first county in the state to refuse to hold jail inmates at the request of federal immigration authorities without a court order.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Wednesday that his office will no longer do so as recent court decisions and statements from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have convinced him these holds are not required.
Immigrant rights advocates and civil libertarians hailed the decision as a way to help build trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement — and save taxpayer dollars.
Stanek said federal immigration authorities place hold requests on just over 500 inmates — or about one and a half percent of the jail population each year.
The holds can keep someone in jail for up to two days after local charges have been dealt with. Stanek said until now, his office has treated hold requests as mandatory.
"They are welcome to come here and pick up folks if they wish, but they'll have to do so when the local charges are adjudicated," he said. "We will not hold them."
Stanek said since 2012, county taxpayers have spent $170,000 to hold prisoners for immigration authorities, but ICE agents can't or won't disclose why they want particular inmates held.
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the federal government doesn't reimburse counties for holding inmates. Nor will it defend law enforcement agencies from wrongful imprisonment lawsuits.
"ICE could put a hold on you, for example, because of your last name," Samuelson said. "And the sheriff who does that is liable to get sued if it turns out you're a U.S. citizen."
Stanek's announcement is a positive development in the face of national immigration policies that often isolate immigrant communities, said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. He said too many immigrants are afraid that any contact with the police can lead to deportation.
"Our major concern in this regard is, when we have victims of crime who are parts of immigrant communities, we really want to make sure that they feel like they can call local police without any fear," Keller sid.
Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau released a written statement in support of Stanek's decision.
"The Minneapolis Police Department operates independently from Immigration and Customs Enforcement," she wrote. "Our primary goal continues to be to serve and protect the residents of the City of Minneapolis."
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is not the only law enforcement agency to adopt this policy. Samuelson said about 100 agencies across the nation, including some in Texas, Arizona and California, have already rejected ICE hold requests without court orders.
In a statement, ICE said federal immigration authorities "will continue to work cooperatively" with Minnesota law enforcement in identifying and removing "convicted criminals and others who are public safety threats."