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The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office’s policy of contacting the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office every time someone suspected of being “foreign born” comes to the county jail raises a number of concerns.

We understand that the job of the sheriff’s office is to execute and enforce the laws and Constitution of the United States. When someone from outside the United States enters the country without permission and not through a U.S. port of entry, that person is breaking the law.

So what’s wrong with sheriff’s office employees making a quick phone call or sending an email to their fellow law enforcement officers in the federal government to check on the citizenship status of a suspect?

One of our concerns is the potential for racial profiling. What is the criteria being used for calling ICE to check on the citizenship status of a suspect in custody? Is it simply because someone has darker skin, has an accent or doesn’t speak English at all?

Emails obtained by the Idaho Press from the month of March show that whatever criteria the sheriff’s office is using is flawed, as some people whose information was sent to ICE turned out to be U.S. citizens. Let that sink in for a minute. The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office was contacting the federal government to check on U.S. citizens.

Next, since when does the sheriff’s office serve at the pleasure of the federal government? Remember when the federal government tried to limit wake zones in Lake Lowell? Canyon County officials were about ready to revolt against — or at least sue — the federal government over the apparent overreach of the federal government. Now, Canyon County wants to serve as an arm of the federal government.

We are also concerned about the erosion of public trust in law enforcement with this practice. Take, for example, the case of a man’s death last year after a Mexican band performed at the Ford Idaho Center. Nampa police officers had a difficult, if not impossible, job of getting witnesses from the Spanish-speaking community to come forward to help figure out what happened.

Public safety is law enforcement’s number one priority, but if residents have a mistrust of the local police agencies, that could negatively affect police agencies’ ability to ensure public safety.

The Nampa Police Department told the Idaho Press, “As far as our dealing with citizens of our community and our town, we don’t care about their status, as far as documented and undocumented. It’s not going to affect how we treat you or how we treat the crime, if you’re a victim or suspect.”

However, if a resident knows that if, for whatever reason, you’re hauled down to the county jail, you’re subject to being reported to the federal authorities, you might be less likely to help out your local police agency or to trust them enough to report crimes.

It might raise the specter in some people’s minds whether local police agencies are “out looking” for undocumented immigrants, arresting them on any pretense, however minor, in order to take them to jail, where the sheriff’s office can report them to the federal authorities.

The practice uncovered by the emails is also concerning because Canyon County is already embroiled in lawsuits surrounding its practice of detaining those suspected of being in the country illegally.

In a separate but related issue, Canyon County is facing three lawsuits from men who claim they were denied a chance to post bail so they could be detained by federal immigration officials. This all comes at a time when the county is in the middle of what county officials are calling a jail capacity crisis.

Yet, the county frequently holds more than a dozen offenders on behalf of ICE as a part of an intergovernmental service agreement to make jail space available for federal immigration detention.

In one case uncovered by the emails in March, Canyon County sheriff’s officials seemed eager to get ICE to act before a suspect was about to be let out on bond. In other words, they urged ICE to put a detainer on this person so that the county could hold him longer than allowed. It turned out, though, that person was a U.S. citizen. This raises the further question of whether Canyon County sheriff’s employees are taking longer to process suspects whom they also suspect of being in the country illegally — even if they turn out to be a U.S. citizen.

Other police agencies take a different approach to their coordination with ICE.

Ada County staff notify ICE when inmates who already have immigration holds resolve their cases or post bond, but they do not notify ICE for every person born in another country.

“If someone is arrested on a state charge and ICE determines they are in the country illegally, ICE lets us know,” Ada County sheriff’s spokesman Patrick Orr told the Idaho Press. “It is up to ICE to determine if someone arrested by our deputies or in custody in the Ada County Jail is in the country illegally.”

Robert Culley, director of ICE’s Salt Lake City field office, said the usual practice among Idaho counties is to provide ICE at least a “working log” of all inmates in the jail. This seems to be a much fairer practice that is less fraught with potential for profiling and false or even unconstitutional detainment. It’s also a public record that anyone can request. And this practice puts the onus on ICE to do its job and allows the individual county police agency to do its job.

Let’s be clear: We are not suggesting that the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office simply ignore the law and look the other way when it comes to illegal immigration. But the practice of acting as an arm of the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency raises a number of concerns and unanswered questions and creates the potential for racial profiling and an erosion of public trust in local police agencies.

Our editorials are based on the majority opinions of our editorial board. Not all opinions are unanimous. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison and community members Tami Dooley, John Jackson, Chase Johnson, Melissa Morales, Jane Suggs and Devon Van Essen. Editor Scott McIntosh is a nonvoting member.

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