Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek is under fire from county officials and advocates who argue his office does too much to help immigration authorities — even as the Trump administration called him out recently for not cooperating enough.
Stanek's office does not honor requests to hold inmates longer for immigration agents. But it does alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement when deputies book foreign-born inmates, among other assists. Such practices spend county resources to do the feds' bidding and undermine trust in immigrant communities, say a county commissioner, the Hennepin public defender's office, and immigration attorneys and activists.
"What the sheriff is doing is making it much easier for ICE to target our clients," said Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County's chief public defender.
"He's going above and beyond."
Stanek says communicating with federal law enforcement is key for public safety, and immigrants in the country illegally should not walk free after run-ins with the law.
"We've been very clear: There is no sanctuary for criminals anywhere in Hennepin County," he said.
At Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene's request, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is writing Stanek to demand more information about how his office helps ICE. But Stanek's critics acknowledge they have limited leverage to push for changes.
Since 2014, the Sheriff's Office has not honored ICE detainers, which are requests to hold inmates for up to 48 hours so immigration agents can take them into custody. In March, that position landed Hennepin County on a Trump administration list of uncooperative jurisdictions — a practice suspended after Stanek and others complained they were unfairly singled out.
"We cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies as the public would expect," Stanek said. "We don't do ICE's job — never have, never will."
When deputies book inmates, they ask for their city of birth and citizenship. Stanek says inquiring about birthplaces is required by Minnesota statutes and allows his office to notify consulates. With foreign-born inmates, deputies call ICE and sometimes put that inmate on the phone with an ICE agent.
The jail also provides ICE agents space to meet with inmates and notifies the agency when an inmate with an ICE detainer is about to be released. ICE requests a 24-hour heads-up, but jail officials say agents usually have an hour or two while the inmate is cleared for release.
Officials stress inmates don't have to provide their country of birth, take ICE's call or remain in the room once they find out what they are told is an "official visit" is with ICE agents. But they say deputies have no mandate to coach inmates on how to handle these encounters.
Local jail arrests lead to the majority of immigration arrests and deportations nationally. At booking, inmates' fingerprints are automatically shared with a state database, then with the FBI and eventually with immigration authorities. But that only yields a match for ICE if the inmate has had a run-in with immigration authorities.
ICE says phone calls from local jails and reviews of court records account for more arrests than fingerprint matches. The majority of Minnesota sheriff's offices cooperate in this way, the agency says.
Inmates don't have to talk
Immigrant advocates argue such practices are misguided in the state's largest county, one of Minnesota's most diverse.
Moriarty, the public defender, says it is coercive to put inmates on the phone or usher them into a room with ICE agents. Deputies should notify them that they don't have to talk to ICE, she says.
Minneapolis immigration attorney Susana De Leon says that with the Trump administration's focus on deporting people with pending criminal charges, more residents are going from Hennepin County jail into ICE custody without a day in court, even to resolve minor charges.
"Our community members are being referred to ICE, being arrested, being deported — before they are even convicted of anything," she said.
Stanek's office has taken steps to engage immigrant communities, including hiring a Latina community liaison. Stanek was among 63 sheriffs and police chiefs who signed a letter in March opposing a larger role for local cops in immigration enforcement.
But advocates argue that the Sheriff's Office's practices have undermined these efforts — and make immigrant crime victims and witnesses fearful of engaging with authorities.
Stanek's critics are making a banner case out of a man in a recent viral video that showed a Metro Transit agent asking him about his immigration status on the light rail. The man, Ariel Vences-Lopez, was later arrested for fare evasion, obstructing an officer and giving a false name — charges that have been dropped. He was booked and turned over to ICE.
Because he had not encountered immigration authorities since crossing the border illegally in 2013, there was no fingerprint record to alert ICE, says attorney Danielle Robinson Briand. ICE documents say Hennepin County jail contacted the agency.
Over the past year, Moriarty and advocates such as John Keller at the Immigrant Law Center have asked Stanek to stop sharing information with ICE. Commissioner Greene's office explored ways of preventing sheriff's employees from doing so, but the County Board has no authority over Sheriff's Office policy.
Stanek: Can't please all
Stanek says he did make a change: Deputies now ask inmates whether they will take a call from an immigration agent. "We said, 'OK, if they don't want to talk to an ICE agent, they don't have to,' " he said. "But we still make the phone call."
He says that his constituents expect his office to communicate with federal partners and that most chafe at the idea of setting free immigrants who have broken the law. Yes, some inmates that ICE detains have not been convicted, but they have at the very least broken the nation's immigration laws, he says. His approach sometimes means he doesn't make anyone happy, he says: "ICE doesn't like it. The advocates don't like it."
County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a Republican candidate for governor, says he would like to see the sheriff honor detainers, but Stanek's approach of sharing information to enforce immigration laws is "reasonable."
"We need to enforce the laws that we have on the books, even if that doesn't fit our political agenda," he said.
Some advocates say their best bet is to lobby the sheriff directly.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ian Bratlie says while advocates have had court victories in challenging detainers, it's not illegal to alert ICE about foreign-born inmates and notify the agency about an upcoming release.
Greene says she crafted a policy limiting ICE interaction for probations, corrections and human services staff — departments the County Board does oversee.
"I'm providing the most extensive protections possible to all who work, go to school and live in our communities," she said.
Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781