Is Johnson County among more than 200 counties, cities, and states that are considered “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants?
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the answer is yes.
Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning adamantly disagrees.
The label “sanctuary county” has been applied to Johnson County for one main reason. In July 2014 Denning made a policy decision that his department will not honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers without probable cause or a warrant.
That nails it for the Center for Immigration Studies, the not-for-profit, self-proclaimed “independent research organization founded in 1985.”
Says the organization on its website: “These sanctuary policies (like Denning’s) obstruct federal law authorizing ICE to administratively deport illegal aliens without seeking criminal warrants or convictions from federal, state, or local courts.”
That would make Johnson County the only county in the metropolitan area that has been described as a “sanctuary county.”
Denning vigorously defends his policy.
In a letter Denning wrote to individuals questioning his policy, he wrote, “Rest assured. Johnson County is not a ‘sanctuary’ for illegal immigrants. Rather, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Deputies enforce Kansas laws with respect to citizens and non-citizens alike. Likewise, they actively comply with the enforcement of Federal immigration laws.”
He continued, “As a starting point — and whether we agree or disagree with it — the United States Supreme Court has held that illegal immigrants in our country are entitled to many Constitutional rights and protections, just like United States citizens.”
Denning also pointed out his office is in compliance with Kansas law.
“Without an arrest warrant issued by a judge, (Kansas state statutes) require officers to have probable cause to arrest and detain people.”
Denning cited the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires officers to have probable cause to justify a warrantless arrest.
“Therefore,” Denning wrote, “if an ICE Detainer is based only on a ‘reason to believe’ that a person is subject to removal by ICE, we cannot legally detain them on that ground alone.”
All of this has become a “lightning rod,” as Denning puts it, because of a recent tragedy in San Francisco. There, an illegal immigrant allegedly murdered a 32-year-old woman. He previously had been deported five times for numerous nonviolent felonies and had been released from the San Francisco jail, despite requests from ICE to detain him.
I asked Denning if, under his policy, that same man might have been released from the Johnson County jail, or would he have been detained for ICE, which wanted to deport him again?
Denning said, as he understood it, the man was in jail for marijuana possession 20 years ago. And he had been held in jail for almost a week. Under that scenario, Denning said he would have been released from the Johnson County jail. (Denning hastens to add that San Francisco operates from a city ordinance, while his protocol is based on Kansas law and case law.)
Denning said he believes holding onto a suspect for a prolonged period solely on an ICE order was a violation of federal law.
The Johnson County sheriff deserves better than to be unfairly tarnished as a so-called protector of a sanctuary county. Johnson County happens to be enlightened, and so is its courageous sheriff.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to email@example.com.