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Adonis Encinas Velarde was one of two men booked into the Coconino County Jail earlier this month on charges of first-degree murder for the death of his girlfriend, 19-year-old Kinsey Beebe.

But in addition to his criminal charges, 20-year-old Velarde faces what is called a detainer request issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

The ICE detainer asks local authorities to hold a person suspected of being undocumented for an additional 48 hours after his or her release date. It kicks in after a person has, for example, posted bond, had their charges dismissed or served their required detention period at a local level. The idea is to give ICE agents time to take custody of someone suspected of being in the country illegally.

But a group of people that includes the pro-immigrant coalition Keep Flagstaff Together is asking local elected officials to pressure Coconino County’s sheriff to no longer comply with those requests. The group made their case to the Flagstaff City Council last week and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors the week before.

Group members contend that further detaining people after they legally should have been released is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable seizure by the government.

“Everyone on U.S. soil has the constitutional right of due process. Unfortunately, however, there is one exception: individuals in Coconino County jail suspected, not proven, of being undocumented,” said Marcus Ford, a member of Keep Flagstaff Together, during the county supervisors meeting. “Depriving these individuals of their constitutional right is legally indefensible and morally reprehensible.”

The policy is separating families and destroying lives of residents of Coconino County, Robert Neustadt, one of the leaders of Keep Flagstaff Together, told the supervisors.

A DECADE OF COMPLIANCE

The sheriff’s office has honored the ICE requests for at least a decade, Sheriff Jim Driscoll said. Over that time, the number of requests issued nationwide peaked in 2011 under the Obama administration, then started a years-long decline, then began to rise sharply in the months after President Trump took office, according to the TRAC Immigration Project.

For its part, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office has received an average of 76 ICE detainer requests annually over the past three years.

In justifying his compliance with those requests, Driscoll points to the Arizona law that started as the controversial Senate Bill 1070. Honoring those federal detainers falls under the law’s mandate that local agencies generally cooperate with and assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, Driscoll said. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that part of the law.

“Cooperation to me is that a federal agency makes a request of us, I am going to try to comply with that. Is the request legal? That's for the courts to determine,” he said. To his knowledge no court with jurisdiction over Arizona has taken up the question of whether the detainer requests are constitutional.

Discoll acknowledged that the state law does not directly reference detainer requests, so his office’s compliance is based on the county attorney’s interpretation of the statute’s intent.

But when asked about that interpretation, County Attorney Bill Ring didn’t address how it justifies the county’s compliance with ICE detainer requests. In an email, Ring wrote only that state law compels local officials to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, but that state cooperation ends at the point where the federal government has “commandeered local officials to do the business of United States.”       

He didn’t elaborate on what that endpoint might be.

ILLEGALITY UNQUESTIONED

Attorney Billy Peard said there is no question about the illegality of ICE’s detainer requests.

“Honoring an ICE detainer is unconstitutional, period. There is no further analysis. The road stops there,” said Peard, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

“Basically (Driscoll) is staring down the barrel of a gun by continuing his current practice of honoring ice detainers,” he said, referring to the potential for the sheriff to face lawsuits.

He pointed out that just last month a California district court ruled that the detainer requests violate the constitutional rights of inmates. As the operator of a local jail, the sheriff’s office doesn't have legal authority to hold someone longer than what their own authority gives them, Peard said. And the ICE detainer requests, because the warrant they come with isn't signed by a judge, “are pieces of paper that have no legal force,” he said.

If ICE officials want to come get someone, they can do it on their own or they can get a judge to sign a warrant, said Ford, with Keep Flagstaff Together.

“(The sheriff’s office) is violating the Fourth Amendment right of these individuals as a courtesy to another agency,” Ford said.

DOES ICE COLLABORATION COMPROMISE SAFETY?

Another worry is about the message cooperation with ICE sends to the immigrant community, and those who are victims or witnesses, Peard said.

“Driscoll's primary job is public safety. If you are perceived as collaborating with ICE more than you are legally required to do, it does send a signal to primarily the Hispanic community in Flagstaff that ‘thou shalt not call police ever,’” he said.

Driscoll and Detention Services Commander Matthew Figueroa said they don’t see that fear of law enforcement among people in Flagstaff and emphasized that according to their policies, a person’s immigration status should never make them afraid to report a crime.

The department’s policy requires verification of someone’s immigration status only after a lawful arrest that has nothing to do with that immigration status and when a reasonable suspicion exists the person is in the country illegally. It states that all individuals must feel secure that contacting or being addressed by law enforcement will not automatically lead to immigration inquiry or deportation.

Driscoll stressed that his enforcement of laws should never be taken as a reflection of his personal views.

"There's a lot of distasteful things that we have to do in this business, there's a lot of laws that I may personally not agree with but I don't have the luxury of choosing not to enforce them or picking and choosing what laws I enforce," he said.

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Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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