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A judge's gavel.
A courtroom gavel. (Joe Gratz, Flickr)

Five Teller County residents are suing their county’s sheriff, alleging he violated state law by partnering with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, in a three-day trial set to begin Tuesday in Cripple Creek.

The ACLU, which says the lawsuit is the first of its kind in the country, plans to present evidence that through the agreement, people who posted bond in Teller County Detentions Facility were not released, as Colorado laws requires, but instead forced to stay in jail before they were turned over to ICE officials. 

Under the agreement, Sheriff Jason Mikesell is authorized to send deputies out of state to receive training from ICE that would then allow them to make immigration arrests and exercise other immigration-related powers usually reserved to federal officers. Teller County is the only county in Colorado where the agreement, known as 287(g), is still operating, according to the ACLU. 

“Far from upholding Colorado law, Sheriff Mikesell’s 287(g) agreement instead advances an unconstitutional, anti-immigrant agenda. Both the warrantless arrests for civil violations of federal immigration law and the jail’s refusal to release people after posting bail are unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution,” Annie Kurtz, one of three ACLU attorneys on the case, said Monday. 

A win on behalf of the ACLU would signify that the 287(g) agreement cannot stand up to legal scrutiny and allow immigrant communities to live free from fear of being stopped, arrested and deported by Teller County deputies, Kurtz said. 

The six residents suing the sheriff argue that tax dollars should not be spent for “unconstitutional activities and an unconstitutional program,” according to the lawsuit.

Mikesell’s attorneys did not immediately return a request for comment from The Colorado Sun, nor was a message left for Mikesell at the Teller County Sheriff’s Office.

Lawyers for the ACLU of Colorado filed the lawsuit in 2019, shortly after Colorado enacted a statute that prohibits state law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining people on the basis of ICE documents that are not signed by a judge. 

A judge ruled in 2020 that the plaintiffs did not have a legal standing to file the suit, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision last year and sent the case back to district court. 

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, to correct the number of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the wording of a statement by Annie Kurtz, an ACLU lawyer. The update also clarifies that three ACLU attorneys are on the case.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...