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Sheriff Jones’ office questioned by feds/ACLU after undocumenteds detained

HAMILTON, OH: A sheriff, who has complained that federal resources are stretched too thin to adequately police his region’s ballooning immigrant population, said he had to release 18 men who told deputies they were undocumented migrants because his office can’t legally enforce immigration laws.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union and federal officials are questioning whether the deputies had the right to detain the men in the first place.

Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones has insisted his office acted appropriately, saying the men were detained because they could not be identified and because of a communications barrier. Jones said the case has been referred to immigration officials and the sheriff’s office plans to continue an investigation to find the men’s employer.

But Richard Wilkens, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Cincinnati office, said that, generally, local authorities can only take undocumented individuals into custody if they are being charged with violating state law.

“At no time did they contact us until after they had the individuals in custody and didn't know what to do with them,” Wilkens said. “I don't know what the Ohio state law violation was. If they had a state law violation that they arrested the people for, then they are fine. But if they arrested the individuals for being suspected undocumented immigrants, they don't have the authority to do that.”

The men were detained after an anonymous man called authorities to report a potential fight between construction workers at a home building site on Thursday morning.

“I’m working out here on a construction site and there’s about 20, 30 Mexicans and about five or six [U.S.] Americans and we’re about ready to all fight because they’re all illegal aliens out here and we’re Americans and they’re out here taking our jobs,” the man said in the call to the sheriff's office.

When deputies asked the men for identification, some of them said they had none and others offered papers that Capt. Norm Lewis said were “obviously bogus.” The men were detained and interviewed by investigators. They were released by 11:00 p.m. without being charged.

Jones has drawn attention for billing the federal government for housing inmates who are undocumented and launching a $10,000 advertising campaign to warn employers who are hiring undocumented immigrants that they are breaking federal law.

Some Butler County leaders have said they want legislation that would make it a state crime of trespass to be in Ohio illegally.

“We have to send a message,” Jones said. “We can't just sit here on our hands.”

Questions have arisen about whether the sheriff's office had a legitimate reason detain the men, said Carrie Davis, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio in Cleveland.

“Were they detaining people because of a suspected crime or was it simply because they wanted to see if people were documented? That determines the constitutionality of their acts,” Davis said.

Sherry Neal, a Cincinnati immigration attorney and president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she’s trying learn more about what happened.

“I can’t get any information,” she said. “Local police have the legal authority to detain on criminal issues, but they don't have the legal authority to enforce immigration laws.”







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