Sheriff: ICE’s Visit Was Routine
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Over the weekend officers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were in Jackson to detain about nine people with warrants for their arrest. By Monday they’d arrested four people, raising concerns among the community about an immigration raid, but local law enforcement says ICE’s visit was routine and not part of an immigration bust.
As reported by PJH last month, a joint statement issued by Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen and Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith attempted to allay deportation fears in the valley. “There are no plans to conduct immigration raids in Teton County, either now or in the future,” the statement read.
Whalen says nothing has changed since they released this statement. ICE’s visit this past weekend is part of what the agency has done for years: “What will happen a couple times a year, three or four times a year—and what happened last weekend—is that ICE will have a list of specific people they’re looking for that’ll have criminal convictions or prior deportations,” Whalen explained.
Trefonas Law, a firm that has represented many immigration cases, has also tried to ease concerns. From an April 3 Facebook post: “We are aware that ICE is in Jackson. They are here to detain approximately nine individuals who have ICE warrants. Four are already detained and in jail. We believe all individuals have prior convictions and illegal reentries into the U.S. ICE IS NOT RANDOMLY DETAINING IMMIGRANTS, but they are detaining specific individuals.”
Whalen stressed that these arrests are not unusual; it is ICE’s primary role in Jackson. The other times it gets involved with deportation cases is when local law enforcement—whether highway patrol or from the sheriff’s office—arrests someone for a state law violation and finds that they are undocumented. In that case, the booking deputies will notify ICE of the arrest: “More often than not, ICE tells us they don’t have an interest,” he said.
The times that ICE may decide to take action is if the person has been deported previously, or if the crime is more serious: “More often than not, ICE declines to take immigration action in a minor crime. Clearly, a felony is more serious than a misdemeanor. ICE will typically respond to that,” Whalen explained. Misdemeanors, however, are more of a grey area, Whalen said. It is case-by-case, and completely up to ICE. For example, the agency tends to pursue DUI charges “because it’s a public safety problem.”
Carl Rusnock, a spokesperson for ICE in Wyoming, said that its goal is to target violent criminals: “Across the board, the more severe the crime, the higher priority the target. It’s really on a case by case basis … [ICE] improve(s) public safety, the goal is to remove criminal aliens from the street.” Rusnock explained that the immigration arm of ICE pursues removal of undocumented people based on investigative leads. If and when it has a lead in Jackson, officers will come to town to seek that person.