PHOENIX - More than 30 immigrants in the country illegally were freed from metro Phoenix's jails over the last four days after Sheriff Paul Penzone announced a change in one of his jail policies. The new rule announced last week by Penzone shortens the length of time that he'll hold onto such inmates before federal authorities take custody of them.
His office stated on Wednesday that the immigrants went free because federal authorities declined to pick them up after the inmates became eligible for release from jail on state charges.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also has been banned from arresting immigrants inside the county's jails, says it has since arrested five of the freed immigrants.
Penzone says issues surrounding the policy's constitutionality left him no choice but to change the rules.
Statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
"Last week, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) announced his office would no longer honor immigration detainers. In conjunction with the sudden reversal of a long-standing practice of honoring immigration detainers, the Sheriff also implemented a restriction prohibiting the arrest of individuals with detainers by ICE officers within the confines of the facility. Since the Friday announcement, a total of 32 inmates, who had an immigration detainer on file, have been released by MCSO back into the community, among them were individuals with criminal convictions for drug offenses, extreme DUIs, reckless driving and resisting an officer. As a result, the local Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) office realigned fugitive enforcement resources to prioritize, locate, and arrest those released as a result of the Sheriff's recently implemented directives. As of this statement, ERO has arrested five individuals who were released as a direct result of the Sheriff's change in policy.
ICE will continue to seek to collaborate with all law enforcement agencies throughout the State of Arizona, including the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, to help ensure that individuals who may pose a threat to our communities are not released onto the street to potentially reoffend and harm individuals living within our communities."
Statement from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office:
"The number of detainees on ICE courtesy or civil holds released in the period beginning 2/18/17 through 2/22/17 is 33.
We are not permitting ICE to take custody of civil holds inside MCSO facilities. Sheriff Penzone has offered to meet with ICE to work out a solution, and MCAO will counsel to insure that the solution reached is legal.
ICE remains in MCSO central booking where it assesses immigration status of 100% of persons booked into the MCSO detention system. It is at that point in the process that ICE determines whether a person will be issued a courtesy or civil hold. Once our office is notified by the court that an inmate is to be released, we immediately notify ICE of our obligation to process that individual from our custody. This process takes 5-8 hours. Once the inmate completes this process, and just prior to being released from our custody, we again notify ICE an individual is pending immediate release from our custody. At that time, ICE can act on its authority to assume custody of this individual as they leave our facility."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.