32 immigrants freed from Phoenix jails after MCSO policy change

Posted at 3:25 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-23 11:49:22-05

More than 30 immigrants in the country illegally were freed from metro Phoenix's jails over the last four days after Sheriff Paul Penzone announced a change in one of his jail policies.  

The new rule announced last week by Penzone shortens the length of time that he'll hold onto such inmates before federal authorities take custody of them.   

His office says Wednesday that the 32 immigrants went free because federal authorities declined to pick them up after the inmates became eligible for release from jail on state charges.  

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery advised MCSO to stop holding undocumented inmates.   

"Issues were raised in the course of potential litigation on behalf of our clients," Montgomery said. "And then we get to pay attorney's fees to the plaintiffs — I'm kind of tired of that process." 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also has been banned from arresting immigrants inside the county's jails, says it has since arrested five of the freed immigrants. ICE spokesman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe released the following statement on Wednesday:

"Last week, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) announced his office would no longer honor immigration detainers. In conjunction with the sudden reversal of a long-standing practice of honoring immigration detainers, the Sheriff also implemented a restriction prohibiting the arrest of individuals with detainers by ICE officers within the confines of the facility. Since the Friday announcement, a total of 32 inmates, who had an immigration detainer on file, have been released by MCSO back into the community, among them were individuals with criminal convictions for drug offenses, extreme DUIs, reckless driving and resisting an officer. As a result, the local Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) office realigned fugitive enforcement resources to prioritize, locate, and arrest those released as a result of the Sheriff's recently implemented directives. As of this statement, ERO has arrested five individuals who were released as a direct result of the Sheriff's change in policy.
ICE will continue to seek to collaborate with all law enforcement agencies throughout the State of Arizona, including the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, to help ensure that individuals who may pose a threat to our communities are not released onto the street to potentially reoffend and harm individuals living within our communities."
However, an MCSO spokesperson said it's actually ICE's fault.
"ICE decided not to exercise it's hold and did not pick them up," MCSO said. "ICE decided to let them walk away."

Penzone says issues surrounding the policy's constitutionality left him no choice but to change the rules.For the first time, Sheriff Paul Penzone is speaking out about the controversy. Thursday night, he spoke on the Mac and Gaydos podcast.

"I don't like that I had to do it, but I had no choice in doing it," Penzone said. 

In the interview, he cited the Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigation that determined the courtesy holds are unconstitutional.

"It doesn't matter what anyone out there may believe. This is not something I wanted to do. It was something I was required to do."

 Since Friday night, 33 undocumented immigrants were released. ICE says five have since been re-arrested.

Penzone insists he's willing to work with ICE to come up with a better plan — as long as it's legal.

"I am looking for a solution. This is not me drawing a line in the sand and saying I'm not crossing it. I want to work them so that we can accomplish this collectively."