If sheriff insists on helping Immigration, councilman wants a new jail deal

In March, Sheriff Stanek showed off surveillance images of ICE agents waiting outside his jail to arrest recently released, undocumented immigrants.

In March, Sheriff Stanek showed off surveillance images of ICE agents waiting outside his jail to arrest recently released, undocumented immigrants. Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Minneapolis is explicit -- police do not ask about immigration status.

The city wants undocumented immigrants to call for help when they're in trouble and help police with investigations without fear of being fed to Immigration officials. Yet that "separation ordinance" ends at the doors of the Hennepin County Jail.

After years of prodding from officials ranging from city council members to U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek finally laid out in writing what happens to undocumented immigrants in his jail. 

In a letter from September 21, the sheriff described that at the point of booking -- before an arrestee is convicted of a crime -- inmates are asked their place of birth and fingerprinted. The prints are sent to ICE.

"If an arrestee voluntarily discloses that they were foreign born, or a non-U.S. citizen, HCSO makes this information available to ICE, arranges a call to ICE, and offers the arrestee the option of speaking with an immigration agent," Stanek wrote.

In 2016, his office arranged about 2,700 phone calls between inmates and ICE agents. If ICE asks, the sheriff's office will give it a head's up when an inmate is released from jail.

"Should your city decide to adopt a sanctuary city policy, the process at our Jail will remain unaffected, because the state and federal mandates for our jail will continue," Stanek concluded.

"The only way to adopt a true sanctuary would be to instruct your police department to either not make arrests, or to cite and release all suspects."

Minneapolis City Councilman Cam Gordon published the letter on his blog Monday, calling the sheriff's disclosures "disturbing," and suggesting that Minneapolis review its contract with the Hennepin County Jail.

That doesn't necessarily mean looking for new jail. It isn't clear whether other counties would serve cities outside their borders, or if their practices even differ from Stanek's.

Gordon wants some provisions in Minneapolis' contract with the jail to set some guidelines for Stanek. He's asked city attorney Susan Segal to analyze exactly what Stanek is legally bound to do, and what he does voluntarily. Where the sheriff goes above and beyond to assist ICE, Gordon hopes to pull him back.

"I was struck by how it didn't appear we were providing any kind of due process, or any kind of human services to the inmates, especially those who were identified as appropriate to tell ICE about," he says. "They were afforded no opportunity to talk to any of their family members or any other agency or support system that could help advocate on their behalf and provide them some legal defense."

Gordon suspects Stanek isn't really obligated to notify ICE, or to set up phone calls to help Immigration agents determine an inmate's legal status. And though inmates technically have the option of not answering booking questions, no one is told they have that option.

"I'm just imagining those families this happens to. I don't know it's conscionable we can treat people in this way, so I better be doing something about it," Gordon says. "And hopefully other people will help."