The Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office will not participate in raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against undocumented immigrants without a criminal warrant, Sheriff Eliezer “Eli” Rivera announced Tuesday.
The office will also not ask for someone’s immigration status, nor will it detain someone unless that warrant exists, Rivera said in a news release.
And above all, Rivera won’t permit ICE to train his deputies as federal agents, which would allow them to arrest an undocumented immigrant in the first place, he said. Only ICE-trained officers are allowed to enforce federal immigration laws and make such arrests, he said.
However, the office will act on judge-approved criminal warrants lodged against undocumented immigrants and will report those people to ICE, Rivera said in an interview today.
If undocumented immigrants are detained by the sheriff’s office for other reasons, their cases will be handled “in a way we deem appropriate for each situation,” he said in the news release.
The announcement represents the first time the sheriff’s office has taken a public stance on immigration, Rivera said today. Earlier this month, Rivera issued an order to his deputies instructing them on the new policy.
But the directive comes as attention has intensified — both in New Hampshire and beyond — on local and municipal police department immigration policies.
For decades, some major municipal police departments have followed a practice of not reporting undocumented immigrants to the federal immigration agency, which has the power to order deportations. Police departments in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and others adhere to that approach, earning the moniker “sanctuary cities.”
The policies are long-standing, but they’ve come to the fore recently with the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. Throughout his campaign, and now presidency, Trump has heavily criticized cities carrying the policy, accusing them of turning a blind eye to the law and enabling violent crime. City officials, for their part, argue the policies are essential for effective police work, encouraging crimes to be reported by undocumented immigrants without fear of deportation.
Other cities, such as Houston and Atlanta, do not have such policies.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding for all cities that don’t cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Recently, several New Hampshire towns have waded into the debate, approving similar policies or guidelines for police on undocumented immigrants at their town meetings. Dublin voters approved a resolution instructing police not to detain people based on immigration status alone. Fitzwilliam and Hancock voters voted down similarly worded warrant articles.
Harrisville residents passed a warrant article that went a step further than others have — including Rivera’s statement — instructing police to not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at all, except in cases of felony warrants or allegations of violent criminal activity.
In his announcement Tuesday, Rivera acknowledged differing national approaches. “Numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the country have taken the same position as I have, while others have taken the opposite and are seeking to enter into agreements with ICE for the enforcement of immigration laws,” he wrote.
And after outlining the office’s policy, Rivera also delivered a message to undocumented immigrants themselves.
“If you are an undocumented person in Cheshire County and feel uncertain about approaching law enforcement for fear they will turn you over to ICE, feel free to call me, Sheriff Eli Rivera, at the Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office,” Rivera wrote.
Acting Keene Police Chief Steven Russo was unavailable to comment on that department’s policy this morning. But his late predecessor, Brian Costa, had said that Keene police will not serve as immigration enforcers unless warrants were issued, echoing Rivera’s announcement.
“We have no interest going forward, nor do we have the resources for deputizing our officers as part of ICE to go out and seek illegal or undocumented immigrants,” Costa said in a March 2 interview.
“We govern ourselves by our mission statement,” Costa said, which, according to the department’s website, is “to protect life and property and to maintain order within the City while assuring fair and respectful treatment of everyone.”
“It’s not just a group of words,” he said. “It’s how we do business.”