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Judge: Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening must release ICE detainees

ICE has had a longtime partner in local law enforcement. But a recent restraining order says Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening can't keep ICE detainees past their release dates.

ICE has had a longtime partner in local law enforcement. But a recent restraining order says Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening can't keep ICE detainees past their release dates. Getty Images/iStockphoto

More than 190 local jails and detention facilities nationwide have a bedfellow in Immigration Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. Prisoners come for state crimes, but they stay – under the watchful eye of local law enforcement – because ICE thinks they might be undocumented.

The Washington Post reports that most of the agency’s 42,000 or so detainees are being confined in local facilities. Places in our own backyards. Places like the Nobles County Jail, about three hours southwest of the Twin Cities.

But maybe not for long.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit against Nobles County and Sheriff Kent Wilkening for holding four inmates after they were supposed to be released, just because ICE suspected they might be in the country illegally. A few months later, the prisoners have some relief -- at least, temporarily.

Minnesota District Court Judge Gregory Anderson slapped Wilkening with a restraining order on Thursday. It requires him to release any ICE-held prisoners when their sentences are up under Minnesota law. If the prisoners are still under suspicion of being undocumented, ICE will have to go arrest them.

“As courts have held over and over, Minnesotans have constitutional rights regardless of their immigration status,” Minnesota’s ACLU Director John Gordon said in a press release. “When sheriffs flout the law and try to act as federal immigration officials, it not only harms our community but it also violates the law.”

The case isn’t expected to go to trial until early next spring, but Anderson issued the restraining order specifically because there is “a substantial likelihood” that the ACLU’s going to win this one.

“Our constitution is beautiful,” Maria de Jesus de Pineda, a fellow prisoner who signed on to the lawsuit, told KSTP. According to the ACLU’s complaint, de Pineda, a Worthington mother of three, was arrested for identity theft in February with a $10,000 bond, which her family posted. But de Pineda wasn’t released until 17 days after she was supposed to be.

Wilkening didn’t respond to interview requests. In court filings, he claimed that he did what he did because “cooperation with ICE is critical to protecting Nobles County citizens from illegal activities by aliens.” The attorney representing the county called the case just one more attempt to use district courts to “force counties to become sanctuary counties,” and that the county wasn’t violating any laws by keeping the prisoners for ICE.

“…And it will continue to do so." Nobles County, she said, is going to appeal the court’s decision.