CENTRAL POINT, Ore. — Two men were released from the Jackson County Jail after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) put an immigration detainer on them, according to a statement from ICE earlier this week.
Sheriff Nathan Sickler responded on Friday, saying that his hands were tied by both state law and the ongoing issue of overcrowding at the County Jail.
On Tuesday, April 28, a trooper with Oregon State Police stopped two men in a pickup truck on I-5 for "multiple traffic violations." During a search of the vehicle, the trooper found almost 20 pounds of methamphetamine and more than $16,500 in cash.
25-year-old Leonel Campos-Valdez and 24-year-old Francisco Vazquez-Cruz were taken into custody and booked into the Jackson County Jail.
According to ICE, both men are Mexican citizens who were in the U.S. illegally. On April 29, ICE placed immigration detainers on the two men. The same day, they were both released from jail.
“When criminals who should have been turned over to ICE are instead released into the public, it is a great injustice to the people in which law enforcement is sworn to protect,” said Michael Melendez, acting field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations – Seattle. “As law enforcement officers we have an obligation to protect those in our community, and that includes using every resources within our power, such as immigration detainers, to keep criminals who endanger the public, like these two, off our streets.”
Sickler says that these immigration detainers can't be honored under Oregon law, which has been the case for roughly the past five years due to a court ruling.
"ICE knows and understands this but they have to file them knowing they cannot be honored," Sickler said. "We are allowed and do hold individuals if ICE has a criminal warrant or is charging individuals for crimes. In this case ICE was not pursing criminal charges when they placed the detainer."
However, the reason for the men's release had everything to do with the perennial issue at the Jackson County Jail, Sickler continued — overcrowding.
"Pre-COVID we were forced to release thousands of people a year," Sickler said. "We are now forced to further reduce our capacity in efforts to keep COVID out of our jail. This has caused significant issues with deciding who is kept and who stays in custody."
"The reality is when you have some of the criminal issues we deal with in Jackson County it comes down to there are no good choices to who gets released from jail," he continued. "We are not happy to have to force release anyone from custody but we have too many offenders and not enough bed space. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19."
ICE's statement admonished local agencies for thinking that "refusing to cooperate in ICE [would] result in a decrease in local immigration enforcement."
"Local jurisdictions that choose to not cooperate with ICE are likely to see an increase in ICE enforcement activity, as in jurisdictions that do not cooperate with ICE the agency has no choice but to conduct more at-large targeted enforcement actions," the agency said. "A consequence of ICE being forced to make more arrests on the streets is the agency is likely to encounter other unlawfully present foreign nationals that wouldn’t have been encountered had we been allowed to take custody of a criminal target within the confines of a local jail."