Despite tough talk on sanctuary cities from the Trump administration, many sheriffs still fear that they lack the legal right to hold prisoners for possible deportation, even at the request of federal authorities, Stateline reports. Sheriffs, who operate 85 percent of local jails, are waiting for courts to clarify the legality of “detainers,” or federal requests to hold prisoners for possible deportation. Trump signed an executive order Jan. 25 promising to punish any “sanctuary jurisdictions” that “attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” The order threatened cuts to federal funding and public shaming of “any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers.”
The new administration hasn’t altered the legal landscape yet. Court rulings over the past several years have dissuaded even red-state sheriffs from honoring detainers, fearing that doing so would make them vulnerable to civil rights lawsuits. “Sheriffs want to participate but we need to know our legal standing on this. We’ve been asking for this for years,” said Sheriff Leon Wilmot of Yuma County, Arizona. He spoke to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about the issue Monday on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association. Wilmot said sheriffs need a definitive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Sheriff Michael Bouchard of Oakland County, Mi., said larger counties have the same concern and want a court ruling, action by Congress, or an agreement that federal immigration agents will seek a judge’s signature on detainers to make them legally acceptable. Local authorities in 43 states refused to honor more than 16,000 federal detainer requests from October 2013 to December 2015.