Minnesota law enforcement grapples with federal immigration orders, goals

The Trump administration has cited Hennepin County for not cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts to detain some immigrants in the country illegally who allegedly committed crimes.

But some in Minnesota law enforcement say there are limits to how they can respond to such federal requests.

The Trump administration on Monday issued the first in what will be a weekly list of jurisdictions it says have not honored federal immigration detainer requests.

ICE says the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office let go of two people the agency wanted. Both were from Mexico and were jailed in Hennepin County last month. One had been convicted of amphetamine possession. The other was charged with possessing a weapon.

The sheriff's office said in a statement that it cooperates with ICE to the full extent of the law, and notifies the agency before the jail releases someone ICE is interested in. The office did not respond to MPR News requests for further information.

James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, said Hennepin County is doing things by the book, following legal advice given to county sheriffs.

"We cannot hold for ICE unless it is a detainer that has judicial authorization," Franklin said.

Franklin said sheriffs are free to tell ICE about people they have in custody, which is public information. But in Hennepin County, he said, ICE picks up no more than a third of the people the agency indicates it wants.

The detainers are "of questionable constitutionality if they don't have a warrant, said Virgil Wiebe, director of the immigration clinic at the University of St. Thomas.

"The Fourth Amendment says you shouldn't be able to just put someone in jail or hold someone in jail on the suggestion of another law enforcement agency without a judicial review of that request," Wiebe said.

And, Wiebe said, ICE has crafted its requests in such a way that it puts local law enforcement at risk of being sued.

The Watonwan County Sheriff's Office doesn't ask people about their immigration status. But if a person who ICE is looking for is booked at the county jail, the agency is contacted, Chief Deputy Jeremy Nachreiner said.

"If immigration does happen to put a hold on somebody, we certainly will work with them," he said. "We have so long to hold them and if immigration doesn't come down in a certain period of time, the party is released."

St. Paul police also do not ask people about their immigration status, and Chief Todd Axtell said local law enforcement organizations don't have the authority to enforce federal laws.

Inquiring about a person's immigration status could discourage people from calling on police in emergencies and to report crimes, he said.

"If we engage in activities that have a tendency to allow people to be victimized at higher rates because we are policing of federal laws, shame on us," Axtell said, adding he's concerned about immigrants being victimized if criminals feel they won't face punishment.

ICE says it issued about 3,100 detainers nationally the week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3. At least 200 of those requests were declined by local law enforcement authorities, according to the agency.

The actual number of times local authorities declined to cooperate is unclear. ICE says local law enforcement authorities do not generally tell the agency when they choose not to honor a detainer.

ICE's count only includes declined detainers that agency personnel are aware of.

ICE issues two kinds of detainers, Wiebe said. One asks law enforcement authorities to hold someone for up to 48 hours after they would otherwise be released. The other asks for notice of when someone of interest to ICE will be released.

The agency did not respond to an interview request.

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