SALT LAKE CITY — Some detainees in federal deportation proceedings were transferred as far away as Alabama after the Utah County Jail terminated its contract to house Immigration and Custom Enforcement detainees last month.
Utah County announced in 2016 that it planned to terminate its contract with ICE because it needs the jail beds to address its own criminal justice needs in the fast-growing county.
"We terminated our ICE contract Dec. 6, 2016. We actually didn’t have any ICE inmates in our building. They had cleared them all out on Dec. 5," said Darin Durfey, chief deputy with the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
While some were transferred to Henderson, Nevada, the closest ICE detention facility, according to local immigration attorneys representing the detainees, others have been placed in facilities in other regions of the country.
"In a small number of my cases, ICE has transferred my clients as far away as Alabama, which has been quite the challenge," said immigration attorney Skyler Anderson.
Kristina Ruedas, Utah chapter chairwoman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the change comes as immigration attorneys anticipate other impacts of a new presidential administration.
President-elect Donald Trump's campaign took a hard line on immigration, pledging to step up enforcement of deportation orders and immigration laws.
"There is a great amount of prosecutorial discretion in our immigration system, and a new president could set policy to detain more defendants with an immigration court case rather than stipulate to a bond to release defendants while their case is pending before immigration court," Ruedas said.
"Since the nearest detention center will now be in Nevada, Utah residents could be detained in Nevada for weeks or months waiting for a bond hearing in an immigration court," she said. "It would be difficult for their family, friends and attorney to visit them in person."
Anderson said under latter years of the Obama administration, ICE has been less willing to grant bonds to noncitizens who have older criminal convictions that could result in deportation.
"As a result, noncitizens who will almost certainly be granted a bond by an immigration judge are transferred out of state, usually to Nevada, where they will likely appear by video with their Utah attorney appearing telephonically. Family and witnesses have to incur great costs to be present for any hearings or not attend at all," Anderson said.
The issue could be resolved if ICE would exercise discretion in setting bonds for people with older convictions or releasing them on their own recognizance, he said.
ICE did not respond to emails seeking comment about changes.