Despite recent deportations of unauthorized immigrants in Phoenix and Tucson, law enforcement officials in Flagstaff and greater Coconino County are reminding undocumented individuals that immigration enforcement is not a priority here.

Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll urged any undocumented immigrant living in the county not to fear contacting local police officers and sheriff’s deputies if they are in distress or have a tip regarding criminal activity.

“I want to make it clear that our department does not ask about papers and immigration status when we are contacted,” Driscoll said. “We don’t enforce federal immigration and we have no intention of doing that.”

Officials at the Flagstaff Police Department could not be reached for comment, but the department does "strongly encourage" officers to refrain from making immigration status inquiries during consensual contacts with juveniles, victims and witnesses of crime. The department's policy also adds protections for juveniles suspected of criminal activity. However, the decision to ask about a juvenile, victim or witness’s immigration status is left to the discretion of the police officer.

The Sheriff’s department said ignoring the immigration status of witnesses and victims is a matter of keeping public trust within the undocumented community.

“Our mindset has always been that this is a public trust issue,” Driscoll said. “When people are exploited by a domestic violence issue or have a tip about a situation of human trafficking we don’t want them to worry about getting someone deported.”

Individuals reporting a crime may not have to worry about being reported to U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but those arrested by Flagstaff Police or the Sheriff’s Department will automatically have their immigration status checked when they are booked into Coconino County Jail.

If someone is found during the booking process to be an unauthorized immigrant, local law enforcement will refer the individual to ICE.

According to the Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Erika Wiltenmuth, 48 hours is the typical time frame for local law enforcement to hold an individual for ICE.

"A person can be held 48 hours after the completion of local charges," Wiltenmuth wrote in an email.  "If there are no local charges it is 48 hours from the time of booking.  ICE can then submit a form to hold the person for an extended time."

Detention Commander for the Coconino County Detention Facility Matt Figueroa said that while ICE is notified of any undocumented person arrested, it is up to ICE to deal with anyone in the country illegally.

“When we see that someone is undocumented we notify ICE and it is their responsibility to enforce any immigration issues,” Figueroa said. “ICE may choose to set up an interview with the individual or they may not do anything. We are required to inform ICE not enforce immigration law.”

The detention center does not deal with unauthorized immigrant arrest very often. Last year the sheriff’s department informed ICE of 84 undocumented individuals who were booked and detained locally. (No figures were available at presstime on how many were picked up by ICE.) By comparison the ICE detention center in Eloy holds close to 1,250 immigrants from all over the country, according to center reports.

Finding Sanctuary

Fear of deportation has caused some undocumented immigrants to seek churches for shelter from deportation, but no such movement has started in northern Arizona.

In 2014 South Presbyterian Church in Tucson gave sanctuary to Daniel Neyoy Ruiz who was ordered to be deported by ICE. He stayed in the church for over a month before he was given a stay of deportation.

Since then undocumented immigrants have sought church shelter in Tempe, Phoenix, Portland, Chicago and most recently Denver.

Church leaders believe immigrants are shielded from deportation because a 2011 ICE memo advises immigration officers to avoid taking action in "sensitive locations" such as hospitals, churches and schools.

Father Patrick Mowrer, a priest for San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church in Flagstaff, said that his church has considered giving refuge to those facing imminent deportation, but the situation has never come up.

“We could do that, but I don’t know how much we could do to help them,” Mowrer said referring to church sanctuary. “I have a very strong belief in the gospel message that we protect the immigrant and care for them.”

Mowrer said that around 50 percent of his Spanish congregation is undocumented and that members have come to him with their worries.

“People come and talk to me and they are scared,” Mowrer said. “ Many of the undocumented people I talk to are just kind of living without any idea what will happen to them in the future.”

When it comes to working with undocumented immigrants Mowrer said he spends most of his time preaching compassion to English-speaking members of the church.

“I want to remind our English speaking service about the gospel and showing solidarity with immigrants in our Spanish-speaking service,” Mowrer said.

Worry among undocumented church members is not any greater during the Trump administration according to Mowrer because Arizona’s immigration bill SB1070 created a standard of fear in the community when it was passed in 2012.

“SB1070 built up a fear of deportation so the fear of deportation was here before President Trump,” Mowrer said. “People haven’t really felt like Arizona was their home for a long time, but I know they would like to.”

You can contact reporter Max Lancaster at mlancaster@azdailysun.com

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