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ACLU Sues Teller County Sheriff for Illegally Holding Prisoner for ICE

DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit today against Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell alleging that he is violating Colorado law by continuing to jail an individual who is eligible for release, at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


Leonardo Canseco is charged with two misdemeanors, and the Teller County Court set his bond at $800. According to the lawsuit, the sheriff is acting on a detainer request from federal immigration authorities, who suspect that Canseco is removable from the country. An ICE detainer asks sheriffs to keep prisoners in jail after they would otherwise be released, to provide time for ICE to take them into federal custody for immigration proceedings.


“Colorado sheriffs have no authority to enforce federal immigration law,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Being present in the country in violation of the immigration laws is a civil matter, not a crime. When Mr. Canseco posts his $800 bond for his minor misdemeanor charges, Colorado law requires the Sheriff to release him. Instead, at ICE’s request, the Sheriff plans to keep him in jail, without a warrant, without probable cause of a crime, and without any other valid legal authority.”


ACLU of Colorado successfully raised the same issues earlier this year in a class action lawsuit asserting that El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder had unlawfully imprisoned dozens of individuals at the request of ICE. In March, District Court Judge Eric Bentley ordered Sheriff Elder to release two ACLU clients and to stop relying on ICE detainer requests as grounds for refusing to release individuals when they post bond or resolve their criminal cases. 


In 2014, ACLU of Colorado wrote to Colorado sheriffs explaining that when they hold a prisoner on the basis of ICE detainer requests, they are making a new arrest without legal authority. ACLU of Colorado then negotiated a $30,000 settlement with Arapahoe County on behalf of Claudia Valdez, a domestic violence victim who was held for three days after a judge ordered her release because the jail honored an ICE detainer request. 


Within a few months, every Colorado sheriff receiving the ACLU letter declared that they would not hold prisoners for ICE without a warrant signed by a judge. The County Sheriffs of Colorado issued a statement in which it explained that sheriffs have no authority to do so. By the end of 2016, more than 500 state and local law enforcement agencies around the country were declining to hold prisoners on the basis of ICE immigration detainers and ICE administrative warrants. 


“Colorado law is clear that sheriffs cannot hold prisoners for ICE based on a detainer request,” Staff Attorney Arash Jahanian said. “The statewide sheriff’s organization got it right, and then Judge Bentley correctly ruled that Sheriff Elder had to release our clients from the El Paso County Jail when they posted bond. Now, we’re asking a court to order Sheriff Mikesell to let Mr. Canseco out of the Teller County Jail when he posts bond. State law requires it.”


The ACLU lawsuit, filed in Teller County District Court, seeks a declaratory judgment and an emergency order ensuring Canseco’s release. Canseco is represented by Silverstein and Jahanian of the Colorado ACLU and Byeongsook Seo and Stephanie Kanan of Snell & Wilmer L.L.P.



Read the ACLU complaint:


Judge Rules El Paso County Sheriff Must Stop Illegally Holding Prisoners for ICE

Colorado Sheriff to Pay $30K to Woman Held on Immigration Detainer

All Colorado Jails Now Reject Federal Immigration Detainers

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