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Lawmaker wants to mandate county jails comply with ICE detainers

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An Oklahoma lawmaker filed a bill requiring local jails to comply with detainer requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.

ICE detainers are requests for jails to hold inmates an additional two days after their scheduled release if it is believed that person may have violated immigration law.

Whether law enforcement officers are legally able to honor the requests without violating constitutional rights of individuals has been hotly debated.

Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, who authored the bill, said his goal is to clear up any misunderstandings in how officers should handle ICE detainers in the state.

“One of the things that comes up with working with law enforcement officers is the lack of clarity in the law on what they do with ICE detainees,” Pfeiffer said, referring to jail inmates with ICE detainers. “We are trying to hopefully do what other states have done and make the process clearer.”

Pfeiffer said the mandate is intended to apply to all entities running a county jail. In Oklahoma, most jails are run by sheriff’s offices but a handful are run through a public trust.

"It’s good to finally see the state Legislature looking to offer some guidance regarding ICE detainers," said Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Mark Myers.

The issue of ICE detainers was a continuous problem for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office last year. Last summer, community advocates pushed for removal of the two ICE officers who work inside the county jail solely to identify inmates with possible immigration violations.

Conversely, though the sheriff’s office said it works closely with ICE by allowing those officers 24/7 access to the jail, many were frustrated that the jail does not hold inmates for the additional 48 hours due to potential legal issues.

Sheriff P.D. Taylor said his office has that policy because some federal judges have ruled the detainers unconstitutional, which could open up the county to financial liabilities if it complied with the detainers.

The topic became such an issue that the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office weighed in, saying that unless the sheriff’s office has “probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a crime, other than that for which he or she was arrested” the “sheriff and/or the county may be subject to liability for unlawful detention” for holding that person additional days.

“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 previously told The Oklahoman.

Myers said he hopes that Pfeiffer's bill, if passed, would fully address those concerns.

Once the management transition from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to the Oklahoma County Jail Trust takes place, it will be up to the trust on how to proceed with policies regarding ICE.

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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 ›

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