Teller County Sheriff and ACLU respond to ongoing lawsuit over 287(g) federal program

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WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell is defending himself against the American Civil Liberties Union after the agency filed a lawsuit against him in June.

“I don’t take on a fight that I don’t think I can win, and we will continue,” Mikesell said.

Next month, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office will send three deputies to South Carolina to be trained by ICE officials under an agreement known as 287(g).

>> READ MORE: ACLU lawsuit against Teller County Sheriff dismissed

The ACLU is against the program.

“Six Teller County residents and taxpayers argue that Sheriff Mikesell is diverting their tax money from its intended purpose of enforcing Colorado law in order to fund his unlawful plan to enforce federal immigration law,” the ACLU states in the lawsuit.

“There will be three deputies who will be spending time enforcing immigration law,” ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein said. “All that time spent enforcing federal immigration law represents taxpayer-paid resources that are being diverted to this program.”

Mikesell said the ACLU is wrong. He said the program will only be used in the Teller County jail system, and deputies won’t be going out to the community.

“This program is paid for by ICE,” Mikesell said. “It’s federal tax dollars. There’s not been a dime spent on this program at this time, locally.”

The ACLU said the sheriff’s office is responsible for the costs and expenses of the program, including paying for the three deputies to attend the four-week course.

The ACLU says section 287(g) was added to the federal immigration statute in 1996, providing that ICE can allow selected local officers to exercise the powers of federal immigration officers at local expense “and to the extent consistent with State and local law.”

Teller County’s 287(g) program would be the only program of its kind in Colorado.

The ACLU says it would violate the Colorado Constitution and Colorado law once it goes in effect.

“The Colorado Constitution forbids the sheriff from holding people for ICE when they post bail or complete their criminal case, and now there’s a Colorado statue, and that’s what Sheriff Mikesell plans to do with this 287(g) agreement,” Silverstein said.

The ACLU says when Gov. Jared Polis signed HB19-1124 into law in late May, part of the statue prohibits Colorado sheriffs from holding prisoners past their release dates at the request of ICE.

“I can’t take a detainer right now, but what is happening is I am having deputies trained so they can have federal authorities and I can do that,” Mikesell said.

The ACLU says El Paso County ended its 287(g) back in 2015 because it  “attracted a wide range of criticism.”

The ACLU says if Teller County goes through with the 287(g) program, they will be put in a similar position.

“I think what we are asking the court is to hold the sheriff to the authority that he has under the Colorado Constitution and Colorado statutes, and to explain to the sheriff that he doesn’t have authority under Colorado law to be enforcing federal immigration law,” Silverstein said.

Mikesell said he’s adamant about protecting his community.

“This is never about immigrants,” Mikesell said. “This is about lawbreakers. You break the law in Teller County, you go to jail in Teller County.”

Mikesell said the ACLU is straining his resources by continuing to send open record requests.

“These open records requests are from our policy department, which works in the legislature and has been collecting data on jail populations around the state,” the ACLU said. “These are not directed solely to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office. They go out to every sheriff in the state who operates a county jail.”

Mikesell also cited an incident in which a man by the name of Joel Ramirez Mendez was let go by the sheriff’s office, before Mikesell was elected as sheriff.

The sheriff’s office said Ramirez-Mendez was undocumented, and was involved in a hit-and-run in Colorado Springs on June 15.

CSPD confirmed Ramirez-Mendez was involved in the crash.

The ACLU responded by citing their previous lawsuit, where they represented a man who was playing on a reserved slot machine and spending money that was not his. The ACLU says his actions were a misdemeanor, and not all undocumented immigrants that are behind bars commit serious crimes.

Mikesell told FOX21 the individual in question did have a prior criminal history, but would not disclose further details.

That lawsuit ended in a joint stipulation and was dismissed earlier this year.

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