Johnson County walks a fine line when it comes to the question of being known as a “sanctuary county.”
On the one hand, Sheriff Calvin Hayden says the county is cooperating to the fullest extent of the law with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office when they flag a name from the roll of county arrestees.
On the other, he doesn’t want foreign-born residents to be afraid to call when there’s a problem. The department is not in the business of doing round-ups, he said.
But the fear is very real among Olathe’s Latino population, said Jim Terrones, chairman of the Olathe Latino Coalition. The community leaders, which include officials from the school district, non-profit groups, churches and El Centro, have been working with the sheriff’s office to quell the rumors and confusion that have been prevalent in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president.
Much of that has to do with fast-changing policies from Washington on deportation of undocumented residents that was promised by Trump during his campaign. The administration’s calls for stepped-up deportation of immigrants in the country illegally have prompted questions aboutnearly every aspect of the process.
“The fear is real,” Terrones said, adding that some in the community are more fearful than he’s ever seen them. Some are afraid to go to church or even to the bank, for fear that immigration officials may be waiting, he said.
“It seems to be changing daily and weekly what is coming out of Washington,” he said.
The coalition has been working to dispel rumors and help people cope, he said. They have tried to reassure people that it’s safe to report a crime or ask for police assistance. They are also encouraging undocumented people to have a plan about their property and care for their children in case they are picked up by immigration, he said.
The county’s “sanctuary” status has caused further confusion.
A "sanctuary" county or city has been loosely used to describe a local government that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but even that is open to interpretation.
Hayden said the “sanctuary” listing is unwanted and Hayden has requested to have it removed. No county commission vote was ever taken to declare sanctuary status, as some cities elsewhere in the country have done. And Hayden said his office cooperates with immigration officials’ requests for detainers as long as they meet legal standards of probable cause.
Nevertheless, the listing shows up on the website of the Center for Immigration Studies website, a conservative non-profit think tank.
The usual way the county interacts with immigration is by checking with the federal office when it arrests foreign nationals, Hayden said. Those arrested have their own charges to face locally, but if there’s a detainer request from immigration, they may be held an additional length of time.
The immigration office has to provide probable cause, however. The sheriff’s department gives ICE up to 48 hours to provide that probable cause.
Some fear being deported over a traffic ticket or for calling to report a crime, but Hayden said that won’t happen under the county’s system because people typically aren’t jailed for those things.
Although some law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have gone to the extra length of deputizing their officers to carry out ICE orders, that isn’t happening in Johnson County, he said, because the department is short-staffed with 50 vacancies to fill.
Some leaders of the county’s Hispanic community have said they worry that immigrants may be targeted for crime because they’re afraid of calling police, Hayden said. But they shouldn’t be afraid, he added.
“Our business is to catch the bad guys, people who are breaking the law,” he said. “Our business is not to go out and round people up. That said, I certainly don’t want people who are here illegally to be afraid of the police. Unless you commit a crime, we’re not going to be out looking for you.”
Irene Caudillo, president and chief executive officer of El Centro, said her group has had a good working relationship with the Johnson County Sheriff’s department over the years Frank Denning was sheriff and she expects that to continue with Hayden, who was elected last fall.
She said she generally supports efforts to remove violent criminals as long as their civil rights are protected. It makes sense to have a time limit on how long someone can be held on an ICE detainer before probable cause is presented, she said.
“Our community shouldn’t look at the police and sheriff as ICE enforcers but as providing the safety and protection of everyone in the community,” she said.
Johnson County and in particular, Olathe, have a fast-growing Latino population, she said. In the past ten years, the county has seen a 117 percent jump in the Latino population, predominantly in Olathe, she said. In Olathe, Latinos represent 10 percent of the population.
In fact the Olathe Latino Coalition was formed in response to Mayor Michael Copeland’s request for ways to make the city more welcoming to its growing Latino population.
The county has seen an uptick in detentions from ICE in the past two years. In 2016, immigration picked up 37 people arrested in the county, compared with seven the previous year, he said.
Hayden said he’s asked to be removed from the list of sanctuary counties, since his department cooperates with ICE as far as the law allows.