Maricopa Sheriff Paul Penzone explains reasons for immigration policy changes

Posted at 7:06 PM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 21:25:46-05

Federal agents picked up 30 undocumented immigrants from inside Maricopa County jails over the weekend as part of a compromise over how MCSO interacts with federal immigration authorities.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone spoke to ABC15 about the back-and-forth on the issue of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents placing courtesy holds on inmates discovered to have entered the country illegally.

Earlier this month, Penzone announced MCSO would no longer honor ICE requests to hold inmates who otherwise would be released. After a week, Penzone made a slight reversal to that policy, saying ICE agents can enter the jail to take custody for federal detention.

The revised policy allows the transfer from county to ICE custody to occur in a safe and controlled setting. The sheriff's office will no longer keep anyone locked up solely to wait for ICE pickup. 

"The judge makes a determination when they look at each one of those individuals, whether it's a citizen or non-citizen," Penzone said. "They evaluate and say, 'Do I believe this person poses an ongoing threat to the community?' and they decide if they should be released. And once they make that determination it's no longer my hands."

Penzone explained a recent lawsuit raised a civil rights issue with the agency's former policy regarding ICE holds.  As both MCSO and ICE tried to work out a new deal, 65 undocumented immigrants, designated to go into federal detention, were released into the community instead.

"Would I have liked to have a more seamless solution? Absolutely," Penzone said. "But this came unexpected and we acted as responsibly as quickly as we could."

Penzone says the public flooded his office with angry comments last week while he worked on a compromise with ICE.