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Wyoming Governor: ‘Doesn’t Make Sense’ to Release Illegal Immigrants from County Jails

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead speaks at an event in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Nov. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Neary)

WASHINGTON – Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead told PJM that local prisons should not release undocumented immigrants who serve time for committing a crime before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can take them into custody for entering the U.S. illegally.

Some local jurisdictions such as Fairfax County have terminated their Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with ICE so they do not have to hold known undocumented individuals in prison past their release date for local crimes.

In January, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan announced housing agreements with sheriffs from certain counties that “allow local law enforcement to detain people living in the country illegally who are in jail on criminal offenses for up to 48 hours past their scheduled release,” according to press reports.

Mead said local officials should wait until federal authorities are able to take undocumented persons into custody after they serve their sentence for committing crimes inside the United States.

“If you are going to take them into custody in the first place it is for the reason they are in the country illegally, so to hold them for an artificial period of time and then release them, what’s the point? It’s a cost and it creates, I think, a lot of consternation. You pick them up, you put them in a holding facility, and now you release them two days later based on an arbitrary timeline? I don’t think that’s sufficient,” Mead told PJM during an interview at the recent National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington.

“I don’t know what that timeframe, again, is, how long a time period [Wyoming prisons] are holding them, and I think that probably depends upon ICE and how much resources they have, but I don’t understand why there would be a policy that we keep them for a couple of days and release them and the county next door picks them up and releases them. It doesn’t make sense to me,” he added.

The House of Representatives has passed two sanctuary city bills that are pending in the Senate. The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act (H.R. 3003) would crack down on localities that do not fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by reducing their federal funding and Kate’s Law (H.R. 3004) would penalize migrants who attempt to re-enter the U.S. illegally after being deported.

Mead was asked if he thinks the Senate should pass those bills.

“I think sanctuary cities are not the way to go and part of the reason is, particularly in rural states like Wyoming, we want an open line of communication between the local government, our state law enforcement officials and the federal officials,” he replied. “When you start creating barriers, it not only goes to the issue of immigration, or those who may be in the country illegally, it goes to other issues including violent crimes, drugs, for two examples.”

In a post-9/11 world, Mead said, a local government should not be “blocking off channels of cooperation between local, state and federal” governments.

“That ultimately that is a bad way to go for law enforcement and hurts the effectiveness of each level of law enforcement,” said Mead, who served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming before becoming governor.

During an interview with PJM, Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he would like to see more cooperation between localities in Nevada and the federal government on immigration law, but he opposes the effort to put a sanctuary city question on the ballot in the November election. The ballot question asks voters if they support amending the state constitution to ban localities from not cooperating with federal authorities on immigration law.

“I don’t support that,” Sandoval said, referring to the ballot initiative, at the winter meeting.

The Nevada Supreme Court will decide the legality of the sanctuary city ballot initiative.