Eagle County Sheriff: ICE and invalid warrants and what they mean to our residents (column)
When you are in the business of enforcing laws, you cannot make exceptions. That is not to say that you ignore good judgment, but laws that can alter someone’s life require precise application, and when they involve entire communities, it is critical to apply the utmost diligence.
I am often asked how the Sheriff’s Office balances the needs of national security with local safety concerns when it comes to immigration issues. The Hispanic community is a vital part of Eagle County, and contrary to popular opinion, most of our Spanish-speaking neighbors live here legally.
As Eagle County Sheriff, my primary responsibility is in keeping our community safe, and if members of our towns are afraid to seek medical assistance or report crimes, it becomes unsafe for everyone. Criminals prey on that fear. Yet, there are continual rumors that any report made is submitted to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and you are subject to deportation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Local law enforcement does not have the authority to enforce immigration laws; it is a federal matter, over which we have no jurisdiction, including detention power.
However, that does not mean that we are a “sanctuary city.” I have taken a sworn oath to uphold the law, and that includes local as well as federal laws. However, the national media has taken certain phrases out of context in their reporting and, thus, are in error about describing ICE warrants.
When someone is arrested for a crime, their information is distributed to all state and federal agencies. Those agencies review for offenses that extend beyond our legal reach, primarily out-of-jurisdiction felonies, and if it is deemed important, they will pursue a warrant to detain that individual longer or to take custody and move them accordingly.
Where the confusion comes is that a simple request to retain someone for additional time is not a warrant, it is a civil hold. The difference between a civil hold (detainer request) and an official warrant is that there are very specific requirements for warrants, which must be validated and signed by a judge. These civil holds have been referred to as warrants, but they are not, and I am not authorized to hold someone on a civil hold for a criminal matter. If it is valid, then abide by the law and produce proper documentation.
When there is adequate validation, signed by a judge, I will naturally comply and work with any law enforcement agency. This is not a national origin issue, although those without proper documentation fear ICE the most, but more warrants are issued by other agencies, for American citizens, than what comes from ICE.
To address this issue further, we have formed the County Law Enforcement Immigrant Alliance. This group includes the towns of Vail, Eagle, Avon, Basalt and our office. We all work closely with trusted community sources such as Catholic Charities. If the language barrier is intimidating, even with interpreters, there are volunteers from the church and neighborhood leadership ready to step in to comfort those in distress. We also have a very active and trained volunteer base of graduates of the Hispanic Citizen’s Police Academy, which mirrors our English-speaking program.
Part of our broader engagement, which is offered countywide in both English and Spanish, includes events such as food drives, Shop with a Cop, coat drives, National Night Out and many charitable causes. We are a community of diversification and inclusion, and law enforcement is committed to exemplifying it in all of our actions.
We are honored to be in a position to serve the needs of all our residents, regardless of citizenship status. Whether permanent, short-term or long-term visitors, all are welcome to wonderful Eagle County.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at email@example.com.