Maricopa County jails still a top recipient of ICE detainers




MCSO 4th avenue jail
Aerial shot of 4th Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Tony Webster | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

A jail operated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office continues to be a top destination nationally for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to take custody of people arrested for alleged misdemeanors and felonies. 

According to data obtained and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, during the first nine months of fiscal year 2020, MCSO’s Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix ranked third in the nation for the place that received the most ICE transfer custody requests, also known as ICE detainers. 

In the most recent fiscal years, MCSO jail in downtown Phoenix has ranked second for the facility that receives the most ICE detainers nationally, according to TRAC data.

The jail is where most Valley law enforcement agencies take people they arrest for booking, and an ICE agent stationed in the jail screens every person who has born outside the U.S. If ICE believes the person is deportable, it issues a detainer. 

This means federal agents request to take custody of the person after the person is ordered to be released from jail. ICE then detains the person and begins a deportation process. ICE often takes custody of people before their misdemeanor or felony cases are filed by prosecutors or adjudicated by the courts. 

The collaboration between MCSO and ICE has been criticized by local immigration advocates for years. 

The collaboration isn’t required by any state law or county policy, and immigrant community leaders have recently renewed calls to end the jail partnership between MCSO and ICE. In late May, Phoenix police wrongly charged protesters with felonies, including young immigrants with protection from deportation. The arrests and felony charge led ICE agents to initiate deportation proceedings for four people — proceedings that wouldn’t have happened had immigration agents not been stationed in the jail.

ICE agents started working inside Maricopa County jails in 2011 after the Department of Homeland Security rescinded the authority of MCSO deputies to enforce federal immigration laws after finding the agency racially profiled Latinos and discriminated against them in county jails.

Both candidates for Maricopa County Sheriff, incumbent Paul Penzone, a Democrat, and Jerry Sheridan, a Republican, said they support collaborating with ICE through the county jail system. 

TRAC noted that use of ICE detainers has been on decline since August 2019.