Iowa Sheriff asks ICE “Is this Russia?”

Kevin Rutledge on March 24, 2015

Iowa Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy questions how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains undocumented workers illegally.

On March 18th, I attended The Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commissions 29th Annual Symposium on Civil and Human Rights titled “AMERICA!  Where are we now?”  This all day event was attended by 300 community leaders, activists, and organizations to discuss a variety of issues including racial justice, immigration, and law enforcement.

Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy held a session on the detention of holding undocumented workers for the federal agency ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  He provided a great perspective of the problems law enforcement around the country encounters when detaining undocumented people.

ICE has restricted constitutional rights by asking local, county, and state law enforcement to detain individuals 48 hours after charges have already been resolved.  Sheriff McCarthy’s office thought it was mandatory to comply with ICE’s I-247 policy and forms to detain people up to 48 hours longer than needed (so the federal agency could conduct further investigation without any convictions), until ACLU Iowa sent all 99 county sheriff offices a letter in Iowa detailing the constitutional limits from ICE detainer requests as non-mandatory.

“We don’t have responsibility to hold people after they've already been taken care of,” says McCarthy.  Why honor their request when they don’t detain individuals without charges for anybody else?

At the request of ICE, Sheriff McCarthy and his department complied with a raid in a Des Moines bar years ago, where they assisted in arresting and detaining suspected foreign-born immigrants without proper documentation.  Following the raid, families of suspected immigrants asked McCarthy where their family member was being detained.  When McCarthy contacted ICE about a list of names of people detained and where they were held, ICE denied his request stating they didn’t need to give him any information. 

“Is this Russia?  Do we hide people incognito?  If they’re a law enforcement agency, why aren’t they following rules like the rest of us?” – Bill McCarthy

The reality of immigration in Iowa is that this problem is everywhere.  Everyone is entitled to the same treatment and due process from law enforcement perspective, to not violate our rights.  

The Facts

Polk County taxpayers spend $500,000 to $1,500,000 every year detaining undocumented people.

In a factsheet provided by Erica Johnson, immigrant and racial justice advocate with ACLU Iowa, I was surprised to learn that in my hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa:

“Wapello County – 11 of 15 individuals subject to detainers in Wapello County in FY2012 and FY2013 were never convicted of any crime.”

And my current home in Des Moines…

“Polk County received 488 detainer requests from ICE in FY2012 and FY2013. 70% of the requests were issued for individuals with no prior convictions of any kind.”

Private Prisons Profit from Detaining Immigrants

For-profit prisons play a role in detaining immigrants.  The top 3 private prisons (Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation) which receive government subsidies spent $45 million lobbying state and federal governments from 2002-2012.  In 2012, CCA and GEO Group both made $3.3 billion in revenue.  Currently, there is a 34,000 daily detention bed mandate, a majority in detention centers owned by private prisons.  Private prisons influence and shape public policy within our criminal justice system and affects everybody.

Although Iowa doesn't own or operate any private prisons or privately owned detention centers, ICE does have agreements with a handful of Iowa county jails and pays them to reserve bed space for detainees.  This is one of many ways the criminal justice is taking advantage of vulnerable Iowans.

“[ICE] is capable of being something I didn’t think it could be.  We’re playing some kind of game here and I don’t know what it is.”  - Sherriff McCarthy

A Governing Under the Influence question to ask a presidential candidate:

“I’m concerned about the role private prisons play who own, operate, and build immigrant detention centers.  They’re pressuring politicians through millions of dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions to state and federal lawmakers all over the country for and profiting from longer sentencing, mandatory minimums, and harsh anti-immigration laws.  What will you do to stop private prisons from influencing policies in our criminal justice system?”

(photo courtesy of The Des Moines Register)


Kevin Rutledge

Kevin Rutledge AFSC Governing Under the Influence Presidential Campaign Project

Kevin Rutledge is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with AFSC’s Presidential Campaign Project in Iowa.  Kevin has deep family roots in Quaker activism for peace and social justice.  A graduate from Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice, his previous work includes: United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) organizer, Public Citizen online organizer to overturn Citizens United, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, and a youth residential treatment facility.  Kevin hopes to one day return to Brazil and live by the beach.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill .