Johnson County is listed as a sanctuary by the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent, not-for-profit research organization. That means the county is perceived as being uncooperative in immigration enforcement.
If the county cannot shake that dubious status, it is conceivable that some federal funds could be lost under President Donald Trump’s administration. There are more than 140 sanctuary jurisdictions in the United States.
Hopefully, that unwelcome blemish on the county soon will be erased. Newly elected Sheriff Calvin Hayden complies with all federal detainers because warrants showing probable cause are now routinely provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). So Hayden is holding detainees beyond 48 hours until ICE agents arrive.
Under the previous sheriff, Frank Denning, illegal immigrant detainees who were in jail and being pursued by ICE were released after 48 hours if agents did not show up in time. That is the customary policy for all county prisoners. If they have not been formally charged with a crime, they go free.
This is not to say that Johnson County ever had a serious problem with illegal immigrants. Of the nearly 2,000 foreign-born prisoners in the county jail in 2015 — out of a total of 15,000 prisoners — only seven were detained by ICE agents. However, that small number might have been a bit larger if Denning had cooperated more with ICE.
In fairness to Denning, ICE was not providing the paperwork it provides today. ICE seldom issued warrants in the past, and there was no expressed probable cause of a crime committed by the targeted detainees. Without those formalities, Denning said he thought he would be violating the constitutional rights of the prisoners by holding them beyond 48 hours.
Said Hayden, “If there are the right procedures in place, and we are notified by ICE, we will hold the prisoner a reasonable amount of time until ICE agents appear, even if it’s beyond 48 hours.”
When foreign-born individuals are jailed, ICE receives a list from Hayden. ICE agents then notify Hayden if there are detainees they are particularly interested in, usually those who have committed crimes or are suspected of committing crimes. That may change with the newest Trump executive order. An illegal immigrant in jail who has not been charged with a crime or isn’t even suspected of committing a crime could still be deported simply because he or she is an illegal immigrant.
The director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies advised me that if Hayden has put in place new procedures for dealing with ICE, she will review Johnson County’s status and possibly remove it from the notorious list. Hayden has indicated he would be in contact with her and would do whatever is needed to ensure federal funds keep flowing to Johnson County.
However, Hayden also made clear the sheriff’s office is not about to start “rounding up people.” That is not the sheriff’s job, according to Hayden.
Trump may have the last word on that.