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House bill targets ICE agreements with Minnesota county jails

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls) wants Minnesota to get out of the business of housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees who are suspected of civil immigration violations and may be facing deportation.

Five Minnesota counties currently contract with ICE to do so, including Sherburne County and its second-largest-in-the-state county jail. Ramsey County stopped holding federal immigration detainees in early 2018.

HF3060, which Lee sponsors, would end Sherburne and other counties’ agreements with the federal government’s immigration enforcement agency. It would prohibit local governments from contracting with the federal government to provide detention facilities for persons accused of a civil violation of federal immigration law.

The legislation would also void any existing contracts.

“It’s a bill about keeping families together,” Lee said.

It was approved Wednesday by the House Subcommittee on Local Government and re-referred to the House Government Operations Committee.

A companion, SF2973, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Local Government Committee.

ICE has agreements with five counties in Minnesota — Carver, Freeborn, Kandiyohi, Nobles and Sherburne — that would be impacted by the change. The agency last year had sought more capacity within 100 miles of its St. Paul field office before it declined to expand the number of beds for which it pays county jails. Sherburne receives roughly $11 million per year from ICE.

Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville), who voted against the bill, said he appreciated the intent of the legislation, “but I have concerns voiding current contracts.”

Samantha Sanchez told lawmakers that ICE detained her brother at the Sherburne County Jail for five or six months, calling it a “nightmare.” Her brother suffers from mental illness she said, and the facility made it difficult to communicate with him.

“He thought me and my mom forgot about him. That was hard on me and my brother,” she told the subcommittee through tears. The experience, Sanchez continued, “made me mad, and also very disappointed in our system. We can better it, I know we can.”

Lee said that at Sherburne County’s facilities no special accommodations are made for immigration detainees, despite that they are there for civil violations, not criminal. Immigration advocates said they hear “horror stories” from detainees and called on legislators to end Minnesota’s involvement in ICE practices.

“We hear about kids in cages down at the border,” Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) said. “This is an area I think we need to show some leadership on.”

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