Fear of deportation grips many in JH; local law enforcement forms official policy

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – County residents and advocacy groups alike have expressed concern bordering on anxiety at times over whether local law enforcement will either be complicit in broad immigration changes proposed by the new presidential administration, or even assist federal efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In recent months, some groups and individuals have called for a formal declaration of town leaders to make Jackson a sanctuary city.

Local law enforcement, including both the Jackson Police Department and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, has now issued a definitive statement on what will be those agencies’ policy movement forward. In the statement, both the police department and the sheriff’s office promise no deportations for minor traffic offenses like speeding tickets, and no immigration raids.

The full statement, in the words of Chief of Police Todd Smith and Sheriff Jim Whalen, is relayed here by Buckrail:

Dear Fellow Community Members:

We know a lot has been communicated over the last few months relative to possible changes in immigration policies and how these changes may affect people in the Town of Jackson and Teton County. We are profoundly pleased to provide you a positive message in terms of what we know.

We are also pleased to tell you that the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson Police Department have a very good relationship with the regional department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, we had the opportunity to speak to the acting Field Office Director (Jeff Lynch) and three of his assistant supervisors yesterday. Their offices are out of Denver, Colorado, but they cover Teton County. The following are some assurances that we received from ICE:

1) There are no plans to conduct immigration raids in Teton County; either now or in the future. If that policy ever changes, which they do not anticipate, they will make sure they let us know and then we can let you know. Please trust us on that because it is the absolute truth.

2) They have not changed their policy on deporting people for committing minor traffic offenses. The only exception might be for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which while being a traffic offense, certainly is not a minor one. This is supported by the fact that no person has been deported from Teton County for a minor traffic offense since President Trump took office. The ICE officials did add that there could be circumstances where an individual is a habitual offender (multiple repeated traffic violations) where they might review that case for consideration of deportation, but the case would be the exception, not the rule and would have to be egregious in the number of traffic offenses. The example given by ICE was a recent case in Denver, Colorado where a gentleman with 39 traffic infractions was deported due to habitually offending the traffic laws.

3) The focus of ICE continues to be the security of the border, the deportation of people that commit serious (felony) crimes or people with serious crime convictions. Their focus is not on the deportation of those people committing lesser offenses such as driving without a valid license.

4) They will usually initiate deportation proceedings on those people that have been deported on previous occasions or have a current deportation order on file or a deportation warrant, regardless of what new offense they may have committed, whether minor or serious in nature. People with prior deportation proceedings on their record and commit a new crime should expect that a new deportation proceeding will be undertaken by ICE. The message in this is to NOT commit criminal offenses that would lead a person being in this situation in the first place.

5) ICE has always notified us in the past of when they will be coming to Jackson and they plan to continue that practice. When they come to Jackson it is to locate known fugitives (criminals) from justice, not to conduct broad sweeps for immigration violations.

Local law enforcement (officers and deputies) will not be engaged in enforcing immigration laws. They will only be enforcing Wyoming State law violations. We ask that if you do come into contact with our local law enforcement officers to please cooperate and communicate freely with them. This allows for an overall better result from that encounter.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of miscommunication disseminated in our community relating to what is going to happen. We hope that this letter provides you with some sense of relief. We have trust in what the regional ICE office tells us and now we only ask that you trust us. We encourage you to continue to live, work and raise your families here with the knowledge you can do so without worrying if ICE is going to come knocking on your doors.

Our final message is this:

If you choose to be a contributing member of our community, and we hope that you do, please do so by living a life that is free of committing criminal offenses that puts others at risk, such as driving intoxicated, driving without a license or driving without insurance. Here in Teton County we have some of the highest rates of alcohol-related offenses in the State of Wyoming and we all need to be doing our part to keep our roadways safer for everyone who lives here. We sincerely ask that you do your part as well.

Thank you and God Bless.

Jim Whalen, Teton County Sheriff

 Todd Smith, Jackson Police Chief

TC Sheriff Jim Whalen
JPD Chief Todd Smith


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