Salt Lake County sheriff’s office has settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union over its immigration detention policies.
The ACLU of Utah filed the lawsuit in 2011, accusing Salt Lake County jail officials of holding 22-year-old Enrique Uroza unlawfully for 46 days after he posted bail. As part of the settlement, the county has agreed to end its procedure of delaying releases when authorities suspect an inmate is in the country illegally.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder says he’s grateful to the ACLU for helping to identify a problem with their policies. He says the county was attempting to comply with SB 81 - a law passed by the state legislature in 2008 - which directs local authorities to make a reasonable effort to determine the citizenship status of those in county jail.
“I do believe that our policy at the time was formulated in compliance with state law,” Winder says. “We have subsequently found out through this entire process that our policy was problematic, because the state law was problematic.”
Winder says moving forward, local officials will not be detaining people to verify their status. Those decisions will be left to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But John Mejia, Legal Director for the ACLU of Utah says SB 81 is still on the books, and may continue to cause problems in other counties.
“We think that time and time again it’s been shown that immigration enforcement should be handled by federal agents alone and that state attempts to get into this very complicated area are going to lead to problematic policies and practices,” Mejia says.
As part of the agreement, the plaintiff will receive $75,000 in damages and attorneys' fees. Sheriff Winder says that cost to county taxpayers is a result of a flawed state law, and he hopes that lawmakers will listen to local officials next time they pass this type of legislation.