Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone changes jail rule for immigrants

Posted at 8:44 PM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-18 19:02:25-05

For years, immigrants being released from jails in Phoenix would routinely be kept locked up an extra couple days to give federal authorities time to check their immigration status and launch deportation proceedings.

It was a policy put in place by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and widely denounced by critics who cited it as a pattern of unfair treatment toward immigrants. Jail systems in other cities have also faced legal challenges contending it's unconstitutional to keep a person in jail after they're released on bail or complete their sentence.

The man who defeated Arpaio in the November election announced Friday night that he was doing away with the policy amid questions about its constitutionality. That means the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will no longer keep immigrants past their release dates, putting more of the onus on Immigration, Customs and Enforcement officers.

"I have an obligation that this office act constitutionally and within the laws," Penzone said at a news conference.

Penzone said the Maricopa County Attorney's Office informed him of the legal issues surrounding policy, and he responded by doing away with the practice.

The County Attorney's Office said Saturday that it had reviewed U.S. court cases on ICE civil immigration detainers, including a Texas one in which a court concluded that county officials without federal authorization to enforce immigration law can't hold people beyond the time necessary to enforce state law.

The office said in a brief statement it wouldn't comment further before next week.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican who has co-sponsored Arizona legislation targeting illegal immigration, earlier said Penzone's  move "really infuriates" him and that he'd try to get it rescinded.

Kavanagh said he'll consult legislative lawyers and the County Attorney's Office about Penzone's move.

It may violate a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE on immigration matters to the fullest extent of the law, opening the door for sanctions against the county if the move isn't rescinded, Kavanagh said.

The new rules come as President Donald Trump has issued executive orders demanding a tougher stance on immigration, carrying through on promises that were a centerpiece of the celebrity businessman's campaign. Immigration officers have arrested hundreds of immigrants in the country illegally in the last week, including gang members, sex offenders and drug traffickers.

Immigrants say agents are also sweeping up people wanted on lesser offenses and tearing apart families. The government says the actions are a continuation of policies during the presidency of Barack Obama, whose administration deported a record number of immigrants.

The actions and ensuing controversy are a replay of sorts from what happened in Phoenix over the last decade under Arpaio, who campaigned alongside Trump on several occasions.

Arpaio's immigration raids and sweeps generated the most controversy during his time as sheriff, but his opponents also took him to task for how immigrants were treated in his jail system. That includes the presence of immigration officers at the jails and the "courtesy holds" that Penzone eliminated.

An activist arrested during a protest against Trump and Arpaio last year sued the sheriff late last year and accused the office of unlawfully holding her overnight for a federal immigration check even though she is a U.S. citizen. Jacinta Gonzalez Goodman and others blocked off a road leading to a protest at a Trump rally in Fountain Hills during his presidential campaign.

Gonzalez Goodman was held overnight while others arrested during the protest were let go. She said she was the only one of her group to be interviewed by ICE.

"Penzone's announcement cleans up just one of the many messes Arpaio left behind and is a step in the right direction He must go further however to ensure that all law enforcement agencies are obtaining judicial warrants before entering his jail," she said in a statement Friday.

Activists also want ICE agents out of the jail system, but Penzone is not taking that step.

"We are going to continue to be aggressive in enforcing the laws to keep the public safe," he said.