In Support of Sheriff Dan

 The following opinion piece was published on April 13, 2017 as a Letter to the Editor of the Sioux County (Iowa) Capital Democrat, signed by 18 members and friends of CASA of Sioux County. The Center for Service, Assistance and Advocacy is a non-profit organization, for which I serve as co-director, that envisions transformed Northwest Iowa communities that welcome, empower and celebrate people from all cultures. 

The Sheriff of Sioux County, Dan Altena, has recently come under criticism for abiding by the County policy of not honoring Detainer requests from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) unless a judge has approved such detention with a probable cause warrant.

We believe that this criticism is unwarranted because it reflects a failure to make a distinction between the responsibilities of local and federal law enforcement officers. It also violates the U. S. Constitution and erodes public safety.

Here is the way that ICE Detainers work. If someone is arrested or charged with a crime, local law enforcement processes the case until a conclusion is reached. If a conclusion is reached that does not require further local custody, there is no legal basis to hold the person any longer. In fact, judges in a number of states, including Oregon and Illinois, have already ruled that such ongoing detention violates the constitutional rights of the person being held. All people, even those who are undocumented, are protected by these rights.

Furthermore, the enforcement of immigration law is a responsibility of federal law enforcement, not local law enforcement. The expectation that local law enforcement carry out federal responsibilities has a negative effect on public safety since it erodes the trust that is needed between local residents and local law enforcement officials.

The decision to not honor ICE detainer “requests” (honoring such requests is not a “requirement”) is not peculiar to Sioux County. Twenty-five other counties in Iowa and hundreds of counties throughout America have adopted the same policy for the purpose of protecting rights guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution and promoting public safety.

This debate points to a larger issue; the need for comprehensive immigration reform that includes BOTH strong border enforcement and appropriate punishment for those who are living here without legal status (for example, fines rather than the deportation that is tearing apart many immigrant families) AND a pathway to either citizenship or permanent residence for our many immigrant neighbors, the overwhelming majority of whom are making a very positive contribution to local culture and to our local economy. Such a both/and solution will be possible only if politicians on both sides of the aisle get beyond hyper-partisan either/or thinking by talking respectfully to one another.