State sheriffs shying away from immigration detention

Updated: 07/31/2014 5:59 PM
Created: 07/31/2014 11:25 AM WHEC.com
By: Rachel Spotts

A local sheriff is one of nine in the state who says he will not keep illegal immigrants in jail after their sentences expire. Some say it puts the safety of residents at risk.

Federal agents want jails across the country to hold illegal immigrants after their sentences are complete. They argue that the holds give them time to look into an immigrant’s past. The New York State Sheriffs’ Association says that is not legal and wants its members to end the practice. Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts agrees.

Virts said, “As a sheriff, I have to obey the law, people have due process and I have to be fair and just.”

Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts says it all comes down to the law and holding illegal immigrants in prison past their release date, which isn't legal.

Virts said, “If we hold someone, it should be a court order, signed by a judge. Just like any other person that would be committed to the jail.”

The holds are known as detainers. They are not court ordered. Federal agents want sheriffs across the country to hold foreign born detainees for additional time, so that they can be investigated for immigration related offenses. 

Now the New York State Sheriffs' Association is calling on all its members to refuse these requests. So far, nine sheriffs statewide have agreed to do that, including Sheriff Virts. He says his office will notify the federal agencies when a detainee is set to be released, so they can come and pick them up. But concerns are mounting quickly. What if the agencies don't pick them up? Are the detainees released into the community? And if so, are people in danger? 

Virts said, “If they come and pick up the individual upon release, no one is going to be injured, no one is going to be hurt. There is going to be no crime, no foul, they will be in federal custody.”

New York State Assemblyman Bill Nojay says this is just one example of the breakdown of our country's entire immigration system. 

Assemblyman Bill Nojay, 133rd District, said, “We have millions of illegal immigrants coming into this country. They are putting unacceptable burdens upon local law enforcement, both in our cities and our rural areas. The federal government has got to step up and do its job.”

News10NBC also spoke with the sheriff in Livingston County to get his thoughts. He says he plans to treat this on a case by case basis and hasn't taken a side as to whether he will or will not grant the federal government's requests.

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