• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Woodford likely to be taken off ‘sanctuary’ list - Inquiry by The Sun led to change

Woodford County will likely be taken off the list of “sanctuary counties” compiled by an immigration reform group – a list that local elected officials say the county should never have been on to begin with. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott raised the issue at the Feb. 19 city council meeting, saying he’d received several calls from people wondering why Versailles was on a list of sanctuaries compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies. The Center for Immigration Studies is frequently cited by conservative media outlets and columnists like Ann Coulter. Traugott said one of his concerns was the Trump administration’s announcement that local governments providing sanctuary to illegal or undocumented immigrants would be disqualified from federal grants. Traugott and Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle said they knew of no ordinances or policies either body had ever taken that would make the city or county a sanctuary. Ultimately, the county’s inclusion on the list had nothing to do with city or county, but rather a policy change made by the Woodford County Detention Center in 2014. County Jailer Michele Rankin told The Sun that County Attorney Alan George contacted her in late January after he’d read an email forwarded to him by Coyle, who’d received a call similar to that Traugott had fielded. George had also read a related Jan. 16 article in USA Today. They discovered the problem related to a reform the jail made after receiving a September 2014 letter from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) – two months before Rankin took office. George said the KACo letter warned that the county and jailer could be sued for unlawful imprisonment if they held inmates beyond their release dates solely on an ICE detainer, or “holder.” After that, the jail stopped honoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. George said before Rankin took office, jail officials would routinely notify ICE when they had undocumented immigrants to give them a chance to file federal charges. After the KACo letter, such inmates were not held an additional 48 hours after their time was served to see if an ICE holder would be placed on them. George said the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently and repeatedly held that even undocumented immigrants are entitled to due process. However, until the Trump administration, ICE was not securing these holders, and the county has never been sued for unlawful imprisonment. “It is my understanding that sanctuary entities are those based on formal declarations and adoption of specific sanctuary policies. This has never occurred here. I don’t think any of us even knew what a sanctuary city or county was!” George wrote to The Sun Tuesday. George said he and Rankin agreed that the jail should again hold undocumented immigrants for at least 48 hours after the end of their sentence, with the defense to a lawsuit being that they are acting upon the orders of the president. Rankin said after she talked with George in January, she reached out to federal immigration officials and told them the jail would again begin accepting ICE detainers. An email from the assistant field office director at the Louisville ICE branch informed Rankin that Woodford County would be taken off their list of non-complying areas. All of that (relayed by The Sun) was news to Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies. Vaughan said Woodford County was on an Aug. 31, 2015, ICE list of cities and counties not accepting federal immigration notifications or detainers. The Trump administration recently announced it would begin supplying weekly updates of sanctuary areas. “From what you’re reporting to me, it sounds as if (the Woodford Detention Center) policy has been corrected. If they have a statement to that effect, I will put them on the list I’m going to send for ICE for verification. If everything checks out … I will take them off the list,” Vaughan said Tuesday. Rankin said since her conversation with George, she’d spoken to other county jailers not honoring ICE detainers, either. The likely end to Woodford County’s inclusion in a list of sanctuaries comes as a relief to elected officials like Traugott and George. “It means that our grant funding applications can now be judged on their merits and not based on some ancillary issue,” said Traugott. George put it another way, writing that the list was something “we never should have been on to begin with.”

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