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ICE, Oklahoma County sheriff's office at odds after inmate released

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Oklahoma County residents gather at the Oklahoma County Jail Trust meeting July 22 to voice their concerns over having ICE agents working inside the county jail. [Paxson Haws/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma County residents gather at the Oklahoma County Jail Trust meeting July 22 to voice their concerns over having ICE agents working inside the county jail. [Paxson Haws/The Oklahoman]

An unannounced and highly critical news release has stirred frustrations between the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

ICE on Wednesday sent out a news release stating that the sheriff’s office had wrongfully released an inmate who had been booked in the county jail Sept. 30 on a rape charge and was suspected of being in the country illegally. ICE later found the man and arrested him.

The inmate, Antonio Ulises Perez, had an ICE immigration detainer placed on him Tuesday, which means ICE agents formally requested the jail notify them before releasing Perez and hold him for up to 48 hours until agents could pick him up.

But holding individuals past their scheduled release to honor detainer requests has been deemed unconstitutional by multiple judges across the country, and sheriff’s offices have been held liable, so that is not done, said sheriff’s office spokesperson Mark Myers.

“This is a thin line trying to make sure we are within the law and at the same time working with ICE so they can pick up people they are placing detainers on,” Myers said.

Instead, jail staff notified ICE of Perez’s upcoming release and gave them an hour and a half to pick him up, Myers said. When the agents weren't there within that time frame, he was released.

“But they refused to (pick him up) in this case and instead called us out in a news release,” he added, saying that no ICE agents had contacted the sheriff’s office to discuss the issue.

The ICE news release says the argument of detainers being unconstitutional is invalid.

“Congress has established no process, requirement or expectation directing ICE to seek a judicial warrant from already overburdened federal courts before taking custody of an alien on civil immigration violations,” the release reads. “This idea is simply a figment created by those who wish to undermine immigration enforcement and excuse the ill-conceived practices of sanctuary jurisdictions that put politics before public safety.”

Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey said he has urged the sheriff's office to fully honor ICE detainers. At this time, other county officials and the Oklahoma County Jail Trust do not have control over jail policy.

"Citizens are right to be outraged at the sheriff office thumbing their nose at ICE by not holding this violent criminal alien, Perez, for 48 hours," Calvey said.

Oklahoma County is not considered a "sanctuary area" because two ICE agents are stationed inside of the jail to help expedite the process of identifying and taking custody of potential undocumented individuals, Myers said.

The ICE news release inaccurately stated that the sheriff’s office had arrested Perez when the Oklahoma City Police Department was the arresting agency, according to the Oklahoma City police jail blotter.

Perez remains in ICE custody, according to the news release.

Myers said the sheriff’s office has requested an official opinion from the district attorney’s office on whether they can hold someone who has a detainer past their scheduled release from jail.

The presence of ICE inside the county jail was an issue over the summer. Community activists staged a protest and also spoke at several jail trust meetings to try and ensure policy changes in the future. The sheriff’s office said it would not remove the agents.

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›