Trial against Teller County sheriff expected to begin Tuesday; case centers around ICE agreement

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 and accuses the sheriff of holding undocumented immigrants who have otherwise posted bond.
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 9:34 AM MST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2023 at 11:01 AM MST
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TELLER COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - The trial against the sitting Teller County sheriff is set to begin Tuesday, with the lawman accused of holding undocumented inmates for ICE -- even after they posted bond.

A law signed by Gov. Jared Polis in May 2019 bars local police agencies from honoring ICE requests to hold inmates beyond their scheduled release dates so that they can be picked up by federal agents. In a lawsuit filed that same year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado contends that Sheriff Jason Mikesell flagrantly violated that statute by participating in an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ACLU argues that sheriffs do not have the authority to enforce federal immigration law.

“This will be the first trial of its kind in the country -- the first to examine the legality of a sheriff’s 287(g) program with ICE,” said Annie Kurtz, a staff attorney with ACLU Colorado.

The ACLU says Teller County’s agreement with ICE is the only such agreement still in effect in Colorado.

The ACLU filed the district court lawsuit on behalf of six Teller County residents. As 11 News first reported in 2019, the suit asks a judge to invalidate the ICE agreement and bar Mikesell from using taxpayer funds for immigration enforcement. In 2020, the district court threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the taxpayers didn’t have the legal standing to sue. Last year, that decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals, and the case went back to district court for trial.

The ACLU previously sued Mikesell in 2018 for the same reason. While the judge presiding over that suit ruled in the sheriff’s favor, another judge came to a different conclusion in a similar suit that same year against then-El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, ruling that El Paso County had no authority under state law to hold people for ICE who are suspected of being in the country illegally once they have posted bond, completed a sentence or otherwise resolved their state case.

Mikesell said at the time of the 2018 suit that his office was not conducting roundup operations but holding criminals.