By Rose Godinez, ACLU of NE Legal and Policy Counsel

 Holding immigrants for profit is not new, and it fuels mass incarceration. National news outlets are reporting that migrant children are being held at for-profit detention centers for up to $750 per day.1 It may be surprising to know our own Nebraska counties are holding immigrants for profit including at the Dakota County jail. During my recent conversation with the Dakota County Sheriff while touring his jail, I learned profit was one of the reasons he decided to renew the controversial 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security in June of 2019.

When the Sheriff’s decision to enter this misguided agreement came to light last year, it tore apart the foundations of trust and unity among the Dakota County residents. At this time, the county’s immigrant community was already living in fear due to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric when suddenly their very own Sheriff decided to embrace a program to seek their deportation.2 Unfortunately, the Dakota County community must now bear another year of the controversial 287(g) program, a program which deputizes the Sheriff’s officers as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and allows the Dakota County jail to profit off of housing and transporting immigrants around the country.

A quick review of a jail report the Sheriff handed me this week when I toured their county jail with other advocates shows us just how much the Sheriff’s office is profiting off of immigrants in January alone: $10,214.12 from ICE and $54,750.96 from the Sheriff’s U.S. Marshal agreement which may include the housing of immigrants. The sheriff is exploiting immigrants via a highly controversial 287(g) program with a reputation of leading local law enforcement to racially profile, detain, and deport members of the community who look or sound “like immigrants.” Moreover, the program is largely known for deporting people who come into contact with local police for minor non-immigration offenses. In my recent visit with 287(g) officers at the Dakota County jail, I learned that individuals charged with mere traffic offenses are referred to ICE. The program then allows the Dakota County Sheriff to hold people for up to 48 hours on ICE detainers, even if all charges have been dropped.

The ACLU and our incredible local partners at Unity in Action remain focused on increasing public awareness and mobilizing the Dakota County community despite the Sheriff’s disappointing decision to renew the program. We are also monitoring the 287(g) program’s implementation by the Sheriff through Nebraska’s strong open records law. Unfortunately, we are sad to report that thus far the program’s implementation demonstrates that in its short life in Dakota County, the 287(g) program has already been plagued with problems like racial profiling, confusion, chilled community trust, and increased public safety risk.

The documents I reviewed illustrate that for fiscal year 2019: there were 25 encounters, 1 or 2 of which were U.S. citizens, with an ICE deputized officer and 6 total deportations. These numbers prompted the Sheriff to ask ICE why their encounters and removals are so “low” when the South Sioux school district has so many “NOT light skinned” students. 

Not only is it shocking that the Sheriff would disparage children of color in his community, but it is equally disturbing that the Sheriff makes these biased presumptions based on skin color to determine citizenship status. This is an unacceptable bias in law enforcement. When the Sheriff inquired as to why the numbers, as he believed, are so “low?” ICE responded that the numbers in the area are low because of the increase in lawful permanent residents “who cannot be put back in removal proceedings without certain criminal convictions.”

In other correspondence, we find an e-mail chain between ICE and the Sheriff in which ICE encourages the Sheriff to ask additional questions when booking someone at the Dakota County jail. ICE disguises these extra immigration status questions like “which country are you a citizen or national of” as part of a mandatory Consular Notification. In the same e-mail chain, ICE suggests this is a good additional question to ask because “some people straight up admit to it” and the Dakota County Sheriff accepts the suggestion without considering the consequences this will have on the community.

It’s imperative that we all speak out at this crucial time, stand on the right side of history, and urge the Dakota County Sheriff and other elected leaders to end the 287(g) program in Nebraska and across the United States. Our families shouldn’t have to live in fear that parents won't come home from work, kids won't return from school, or that a knock at the door could rip apart their family. That’s why I joined the ACLU of Nebraska: to work on the frontlines of our diverse communities like Fremont, Scribner, Lexington, O’Neill and South Sioux City to oppose abusive anti-immigrant tactics and policies.

Join me in taking the following actions:

1. Sign the ACLU of Nebraska petition to Dakota County Sheriff Kleinberg to END unnecessary entanglement with federal immigration law.

2. Congress has introduced the PROTECT Immigration Act, which would eliminate 287(g) agreements altogether, nationwide. Sign the PROTECT Immigration Act petition here.

3. Empower communities to Know Their Rights. “We Have Rights: What to Do When Interacting with ICE" video is available here

4. With that, we must also send a message of gratitude, if applicable, to our other Nebraska law enforcement that have chosen to focus on local public safety matters instead of this unnecessary entanglement with federal immigration law.


2 To date, 80 local law enforcement agencies have joined the program nationally and deported over 12,000 immigrants in the Trump years alone.