TUCSON, Ariz. - Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become a real lightning rod in the immigration debate.
Critics are challenging whether the Pima County Sheriff should let ICE station an agent in the County Jail.
Now the Sheriff's Department is stating its case.
Raids are not the only way ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, finds who are in the U.S. illegally.
Sometimes they're already in county jails either convicted, or awaiting trial on some other charge.
The Pima County Jail lets ICE check its list of inmates. If ICE finds someone it wants to detain it may ask a jail to hold that person until ICE agents can pick him up.
The Sheriff's department says it really does not have the legal authority to hold someone here on immigration charges alone because an ICE warrant is really just an administrative request; not a warrant with the weight of a judge's order behind it. So when someone is ready to bond out and someone from ICE is not right here ready to pick them up, they're able to walk away."
For about a year, the Pima Sheriff has allowed ICE to keep an agent at this desk so agents are less likely to miss someone being released.
Jail Commander Byron Gwaltney says the department's not enforcing immigration but it is reducing the chance someone dangerous will be out on the street.
Sheriff Mark Napier outlined his rationale in this statement. It includes an attachment with statistics on some of the inmates ICE had been seeking.
Gwaltney says on one day this July the jail had more than 18 hundred inmates but just 70 were wanted by ICE. 69 of those had been in jail charged with felonies.
Many of those people get out because a judge agreed to release them on bond. Chief Gwaltney says about 30 percent of people released commit crimes again.
"We have some inmates in our facility that have been booked more than 40 times in a in a two year period. Each of those cases they were released at some point by the courts or by bond back out into the community."
ACLU attorney Billy Peard thinks keeping an agent at the jail erodes community trust but it's okay to let ICE know if someone they want is leaving the jail.
"But if some people leave before you get to the facility, that's that's how life is. And they've served their time they've gone through the local process and, you know, you have access to databases, you can find them back at their home residence."
And the jail says while ICE can keep an agent at the jail, often it doesn't because of technical trouble with computers ICE brought in.