By Dean Close, Editor
Benton County officials were surprised and perplexed this week to learn from an immigration web site — as well as a question from a state legislator — that indicate that some people think Benton has become, or is becoming, a “Sanctuary County” that resists federal efforts to deport illegal immigrants.
It’s not, and never has been, says County Attorney David Thompson.
“We are not a sanctuary county,” Thompson said during this morning’s meeting of the Benton County Supervisors.
Thompson told the supervisors that in the past several years, the county has aided federal officials in deporting several people for immigration violations.
During a meeting in Des Moines last week, Supervisor Gary Bierschenk said a state senator asked him about the county’s status as a Sanctuary County. Also, a web site run by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), citing a story in the Texas Tribune web site, identifies Benton as one of 22 Iowa counties that have “Sanctuary” status — although the web site does clearly not say why it made that determination.
Also, a local woman who attended today’s meeting said she has seen similar claims about the county’s “Sanctuary” status on social media from area residents.
Treasurer Kelly Geater also discussed her office’s policies regarding issuing of driver’s licenses, and the documentation required for someone getting their first Iowa license, or even getting a license when returning to Iowa from another state. Geater explained that not only is her office required to carefully review the information presented on the documents, but also to physically feel each document to verify its authenticity.
Nobody in Benton County government — including the supervisors or sheriff’s office — has ever adopted any kind of policy associated with “sanctuary” status.
Thompson said the county will hold prisoners for other government entities, but only after receiving a court order or thoroughly-completed official documentation.
One possible source of the rumor is the county’s policy on enforcing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detaining orders. Deputy John Lindaman told supervisors that a few years ago, a court case involving ICE detainers in another state prompted Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to issue a warning to the state’s county officials to make sure they are following proper procedures. Lindaman also explained that because of the federal 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, current guidelines for keeping federal prisoners in the county jail made it too costly for Benton County to hold federal inmates.
However, the sheriff’s office has never refused any ICE detainers nor adopted any policies regarding them.
County officials are also discussing ways to contact CIS to inform them of the mis-information on their web site, and ask them to change it.