Washoe Sheriff's Office will no longer honor ICE detainers

Sep 17, 2014

Washoe County Detention Facility
Credit Hyytinen Engineering

The Washoe County Sheriff's Office will no longer hold people in jail based solely on requests from federal immigration authorities. Reno Pubic Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that the change comes after a federal judge's recent ruling in Oregon.

The ruling was made in April and it clarifies that federal detainers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement--or ICE--agents are not mandates; they are merely requests, and local law enforcement agencies that honor those requests can be held responsible for keeping people in jail when there isn't sufficient evidence regarding their immigration status.

Ultimately, that could mean costly litigation paid for with tax-payer dollars, which is why Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley, like many other sheriffs across the country, is now requiring actual arrest warrants from ICE.

"I'm trying to make sure that when we hold somebody here that we have the highest level of probable cause or demand necessary to stop their movement and their freedom," Haley explains.

There's still a lot of debate over whether an arrest warrant constitutes enough probable cause to deprive someone of their freedom. Haley says that with such a fluid national discussion, there could be more changes to how his office handles illegal immigration issues down the road as more court rulings shape that landscape.

But no matter what, his goal is not to imprison people simply because they are here illegally.

"Being here illegally is a civil violation; it's not a criminal violation," Haley says. "So we don't want those folks here. The only folks that we want here in our facility, and we monitor this, are folks that have committed felonies--serious felonies that mean that they need to be in custody."

Right now, about 50 prisoners, out of more than a thousand at the Washoe County Detention Facility, are there under ICE arrest warrants.

Haley says that unlike some jails that make money off of housing inmates for federal agencies, Washoe was breaking even on holding people per ICE's request, so the change will have no financial impact on the county.