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

The ACLU of Colorado filed to appeal a Teller County judge’s ruling that allows the sheriff’s office to hold undocumented immigrants in jail on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement even after they post bond.

By appealing the ruling Thursday, the ACLU will argue before a panel of three judges with the Colorado Court of Appeals. In February, Teller County District Court Judge Scott Sells ruled that the sheriff’s office has the legal authority to enter a 287(g) agreement with federal immigration authorities, allowing deputies to enforce immigration law in exchange for training. 

The ACLU sued Sheriff Jason Mikesell on behalf of five Teller County taxpayers, arguing that Colorado law forbids the sheriff’s office from detaining people who are otherwise eligible for release from jail on state crimes. It calls the holds “unconstitutional warrantless arrests” in Thursday’s court documents.

“We feel very strongly that the lower court got this wrong,” said Annie Kurtz, one of the ACLU attorneys on the case. “We are filing the appeal because we remain steadfast that what the sheriff is doing in Teller County is illegal under Colorado law.” 

The closely watched case could have broad implications for the rest of the state and embolden other Colorado sheriffs to enter into 287(g) agreements with ICE. Teller County is the only Colorado county that still has a 287(g) agreement with ICE after legislators passed a law in 2019 prohibiting state law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining people on federal immigration charges, which are a civil offense. 

If the Court of Appeals sides with the ACLU, its decision would apply to the state, not just Teller County, preventing a practice that “harms people, harms families, harms our community and harms the state of Colorado,” Kurtz said. 

In its appeal, the ACLU asked the Court of Appeals to consider whether Sells erred in ruling that Mikesell has the authority to enter the agreement, that Colorado law does not prohibit him from entering the agreement, and that the duties performed under the agreement are legal under state law. 

Mikesell’s attorney, Paul Hurcomb, said he is confident that Judge Sells’ order will be upheld on appeal, calling it a “very well-reasoned and detailed order based on evidence presented at the trial and the applicable law.”

He accused the ACLU of distorting the facts of the 287(g) agreement with the sheriff’s office and said that the Teller County jail deputies act as “de facto” federal officers who serve valid federal arrest warrants issued by ICE officers.

“It is important to emphasize that the Sheriff’s 287(g) program is a Jail Enforcement Model, so the authorized functions all take place in the jail and are designed to enhance public safety by reducing the number of criminal noncitizen offenders released back into the community,” Hurcomb said.

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: