Crime, Law and Justice

Judge finds Nobles County's policy on ICE holds violated law

Updated: Jan. 31, 1:37 p.m. | Posted: Jan. 30, 6:06 p.m.

A judge in southern Minnesota says the Nobles County Sheriff's Office can't keep jail inmates in custody for immigration officials after those inmates are eligible for release in state cases.

Thursday's ruling by Blue Earth District Court Judge Gregory Anderson comes in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. The ACLU argued that the sheriff's office routinely violated the rights of jail inmates by transferring them from local to federal custody at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Anderson said there's no basis to detain any person, regardless of immigration status, after he or she is entitled to release. He referred to a September Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision that found the transfer of a person from state custody to ICE custody constitutes a new seizure, requiring probable cause.

Messages left with the Nobles County sheriff weren't immediately returned.

ICE "detainers" request that local officials hold individuals in jail until federal officers pick them up. Some counties have stopped honoring such requests.

Ian Bratlie, an attorney for the ACLU, said a previous lawsuit did not prevent Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening from practicing a policy of detaining immigrants after they've paid bail, even though the county agreed in that earlier settlement to stop these detentions.

"Nobles County is a very diverse county, the law enforcement is not," Bratlie said. "There have been concerns that the sheriff has been trying to essentially deport people."

The sheriff had argued that ICE detainees posed a risk to the community. But Anderson said in his decision that unauthorized immigrants aren't any more dangerous than U.S. citizens.

"The record does not establish whether there is a greater risk of illegal activities by illegal aliens in the community as opposed to US citizens or aliens here legally," he wrote. "Even assuming such evidence exists and Defendant Wilkening’s concern was supported by such evidence, the same policy considerations could be applied to any type of inmate: charged or convicted drunk drivers, child molesters, burglars."

As part of his ruling, Anderson granted a permanent injunction that bars Nobles County from holding inmates in this way in the future. The plaintiffs can seek damages at trial for being deprived of their liberty.

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