GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Hall County has shown up on a national list of sanctuary communities, but Grand Island and Hall County officials reject the label.
A sanctuary city or county is defined as one that has adopted a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank devoted to research and policy analysis of U.S. immigration, Hall County is a sanctuary county. The center's list and map also included Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties.
The list is not an official U.S. government document.
Hall County was included because its County Corrections Department will not detain someone who is in the country illegally unless a warrant has been issued for the person's arrest.
Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf said that, to his knowledge, there is no official legal definition for a sanctuary city or county. He confirmed that the county's Corrections Department will not hold an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainee unless a warrant has been issued.
Zitterkopf said this decision was made a few years ago in light of local governments being sued by ICE detainees for holding them without probable cause. He said he wants to protect Hall County taxpayers from these lawsuits, which was a factor in this decision.
When a detainee is arrested on local charges, Zitterkopf said, the Hall County Corrections Department will check their immigration status. If the detainee in question is in the country illegally, it will notify ICE.
“Once the local charges are dismissed or a jail sentence fulfilled, the county no longer has authority to hold these people,” Zitterkopf said. “If ICE hasn’t come and taken them by then, they are set loose. We can’t afford to hold people on non-judicially authored detainers because we are going to get sued for millions. In my mind, that certainly doesn’t strike me as being a sanctuary.”
Grand Island Mayor Jeremy Jensen agreed with Zitterkopf, saying he does not view Grand Island as a sanctuary city or Hall County as a sanctuary county.
“The main thing is the communication between the incarceration facility and the federal agency,” Jensen said. “So long as they are passing that information on from the facility to the feds, I don’t see how there could be an interpretation that we are a sanctuary county or city. As long as the folks in our community are taking that information and passing it on, I feel pretty comfortable that we’re doing things the right way.”
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for removal of illegal immigrants who have either committed a crime or are seen to “pose a risk to national security.” He also vowed to deny federal funds to sanctuary cities and counties.
Jensen said he does not anticipate the need for the city to do anything based on the executive order.
For Grand Island residents concerned about Trump’s executive order, Jensen said they have nothing to fear if they are not engaging in criminal activity. He said Grand Island police officers do not have the authority “to go pick somebody up just to know if they’re here legally or not.”
“If there are people here that are here undocumented and they are not engaging in anything in terms of criminal acts, I don’t think you will see anybody knocking at their door saying, ‘You shouldn’t be here, come with me,’ ” he said. “By the same token, if they break the laws, then I think that they certainly need to be held accountable. When we take them into custody, that will be up to the federal government to decide if there is an immigration warrant issued or not.”