Sioux County Public Safety Center - Orange City, IA
Sioux County Public Safety Center – Orange City, IA

(Orange City, IA) Sioux County in Northwest Iowa stands apart among Iowa’s 99 counties. They are the only Iowa county to make the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “name and shame” list twice. The list, created by order of President Donald Trump, publically releases the non-Federal jurisdictions that do not honor immigration detainers issued by ICE to that jurisdiction.

ICE issues detainers to these law enforcement authorities when it becomes known that an illegal immigrant is in their detention center or jail. ICE would request those law enforcement organizations to detain that individual up to 48 hours for ICE to pick them up.

Under the Obama administration, ICE waited until illegal immigrants were convicted in court before issuing detainers unless the person sitting in jail was a suspected terrorist, spy or posed a danger to national security.

Caffeinated Thoughts has learned through a Free of Information Act (FOIA) request that the Sioux County Sheriff’s Department, under the leadership of Sheriff Dan Altena, denied 11 out of 13 detainers issued by ICE. Of the two immigration detainers honored; a warrant accompanied one, and the other was for an inmate placed in state custody.

Since President Trump has taken office, the Sioux County Sheriff’s Department declined two immigration detainers.

On 2/17/16 they declined a detainer issued for a Mexican citizen charged with a DUI. On 1/31/17 the Sheriff’s Department denied a detainer for an illegal immigrant from Guatemala accused of a traffic offense. That same week Sac County declined a detainer issued for an illegal immigrant convicted of drug possession. That particular detainer requested in 2014 may be for someone not currently in custody.

ICE identifies Sioux County as a jurisdiction that has a policy is in place that limits or prohibits cooperation with the agency.

In 2011 Altena took a harder line on illegal immigrants. He was part of a panel discussion with Center for Immigration Studies. CIS lists Sioux County as a sanctuary county.

Altena at that event discussed the problem his department had with an inability to identify illegal immigrants.

“When our officers stop a vehicle, they often times have no documentation — the illegal immigrants –, and that’s very problematic for us. If you all remember, the Oklahoma City bombing, the perpetrator of that act, McVeigh, was stopped by a traffic violation. So if somebody is saying, well, you know, all you have is a traffic violator there, and you can’t identify, that’s not a big issue, for us it is in law enforcement,” Altena said. “We have arrested some of those folks and have found out later they’ve been murder suspects in other states. They’ve been wanted. They’ve been sex offenders. So that kind of issue is very important to us.”

He also spoke at length about a group of business people guilting his office because their employees were being deported. There was a meeting where about 200 people came to the board of supervisors to pressure them, accusing the sheriff’s office of racial profiling. Despite it all, Altena said, his job as sheriff is to protect his community.

“If I have somebody in my community that is not supposed to be there, legally, and — as this group has wanted me to do — I just write them a ticket because they say their name is so-and-so – OK, I write them a ticket, let them go. If, a week later, they’re in just a basic traffic accident — not even a drunk driving accident, but they’re in a traffic accident, and they end up killing somebody — I believe that’s on my shoulders. That’s my fault. Because I was supposed to do something about that person that was there illegally,” he said.

Altena also discussed an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times but made his way to Sioux County. A local Catholic Church found him and brought him to a social service agency. One of the employees of that organization took him into their home and walked into her five-year-old daughter’s room to find him sexually abusing the girl.

What happened? A federal district judge’s ruling in Oregon convinced Altena that he should no longer approve immigration detainers. Federal district rulings in other states are not applicable to Iowa.

Altena has told people that he doesn’t know of a single county in Iowa that still honors ICE Detainer Requests. Lyon County Sheriff Stewart VanderStoep has said that they “always have and always will” accept immigration detainers from ICE.

Late in 2016, a FOIA request was filed with Altena. The request asked for copies of all ICE detainer requests received by Sioux County during the last four years along with a statement whether or not his department complied.

Altena responded that in April of 2014 he had contacted ICE and informed them he would no longer hold individuals per their request.

“Consequently we didn’t receive any detainer requests from ICE after that. So we didn’t have any detainers that we didn’t honor; they just didn’t send them to us because they knew we couldn’t hold individuals pursuant to their detainer request,” he said in an email.

This was not consistent with the information provided by ICE.

Contacting ICE, a public affairs officer after checking, told Caffeinated Thoughts, “We issue detainers to all jurisdictions where there may be an alien in custody we feel may be removable. We have issued, and continue to issue, detainers to Sioux County, Iowa.

Following-up with Sheriff Altena he just replied, “Yes, we do still get detainers from them.”

He said his office was unable to determine how many requests were sent and/or denied. He said ICE would have to provide that number and they did.

Detainer requests were already decreasing under the previous presidential administration, but one of President Trump’s first executive orders encouraged federal immigration officers to enforce the laws as written.

Prior to Trump taking office there were three different kinds of detainer requests issued; now there is just one.

Also, the Iowa Senate passed SF 481 32-15 that requires law enforcement agencies in the state to comply with immigration detainer requests and forbids municipal governments in the state from adoptiong or enforcing policies that prohibits or discourages the enforcement of immigration law.

At the federal level, President Trump has also talked about punishing sanctuary communities. There’s a chance these communities will lose funds for failing to enforce the laws their elected officials take an oath to uphold.

Where will Sioux County stand? Is Sheriff Dan Altena fulfilling his pledge to protect the citizens of Sioux County and representing the wishes of his constituents regarding immigration policy?

7 comments
  1. Interested in why you are wading into waters outside your own home county? Since you aren’t a resident of Sioux County, I am curious what your interest in this is? However I have noticed a group called Sioux County Conservatives seems to like to repost your blogs so maybe you are affiliated with Iowa Gun Owners too? If so, I think you should re-evaluate some of your ideas.

  2. One can disagree with his rationale, but Altena is clear that when he doesn’t detain, it is because he thinks a judge needs probable cause (for a warrant) to hold an individual. This is a 4th Amendment (unlawful custody) and 5th Amendment (due process) concern, related to individual rights and limiting police power, a rationale that limited-government conservatives/libertarians may agree with. Altena also believes, due to court rulings against ICE detentions, that suspects’ detention without judicial approval opens up Sioux county to lawsuits.

    Yes, the Oregon ruling had limited reach. But a recent 3rd Circuit ruling (based on a class-action lawsuit) that ICE detentions without warrant are unconstitutional is currently in effect in IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, WI, and a few counties in other states. >> http://www.whitlockgray.com/2016/10/12/chicago-ice-detainers-unconstitutional/

    Here are a few other key facts:

    – the Guatemalan who committed the “traffic violation” (in the FOIA document), according to Altena, was released in the morning (after being held overnight). He was released not by the direction of the sheriff but because a judge ordered his release. Given the turnaround, it is unlikely the detainer even arrived in time.

    – Altena has no problem detaining if ICE offers up a warrant, rather than a simple request that an individual be detained. Altena: a detainer is “not a legal document or court order, only a request from another agency.”

    – Even the CIS (very anti-illegal immigration group) concedes that the sheriffs now not detaining would agree to detainers if Congress or the state government just passes more protections from civil lawsuits for counties.

    To hear more from Altena personally (another side of the story), see:

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2017/03/23/iowa-sheriffs-dispute-claim-theyre-not-cooperating-immigration-officials/99424226/

    http://www.nwestiowa.com/scnews/sheriff-examines-detainer-policy/article_56d9b954-e8a0-11e6-9e22-eb3e51905df6.html

    http://www.siouxcountydailynews.com/?p=16756

    http://kiwaradio.com/local-news/how-will-trump-immigration-policies-affect-sioux-county-jail/

    1. Thank you Kedron Bardwell, for offering some much needed perspective and balance to this latest “hit piece” by Shane VanderHart…

      This story has the fingerprints of Jacob Hall and/or the Sioux County Conservatives all over it. The fact that the identity of the individual who contacted and was carrying on the correspondence with Altena, VanderStoep, and Sarah (Weber) is hidden is very much in keeping with the past practices of SSC, an organization formed in anonymity in order to avoid accountability.

      It is troubling that CT is so willing to be used as well as abuse its ethical responsibilities while sacrificing it’s journalistic integrity.

      1. Shane, you’re saying that you had the email exchange with Dan Altena, Stewart VanderStoep and Sarah Weber? Why was it necessary to remove your name from the correspondence in each case, especially if you’re the author of the piece? Who contacted each of the individuals is relevant in that it sheds light on who investigated the story? It is just curious that Sioux County Conservatives made many of these same claims, supplied the same video clips from CIS and “poof” Caffeinated Thoughts has an “explosive” story that SCC/Jacob Hall can link to and share. Do you agree that a more even-handed and fair-minded story would include some of Kedron Bardwell’s material…isn’t that what objective journalism is supposed to be about?

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