By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told Jerome County officials that they should not be swayed by possible legal challenges as they consider leasing space in the county's new jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In an Aug. 28 letter, Otter wrote to Captain George Oppedyk — law enforcement commander with the Jerome County Sheriff's office — urging the department and other county officials should be guided by their own needs and not by the threat of a lawsuit.
"It is your responsibility to protect public safety and defend the constitutional rights of all people. Nothing in that charge conflicts with contracting with ICE to help enforce our immigration laws, and no outside considerations should keep you from doing so," Otter wrote; you can read his full letter here.
According to the letter, Oppedyk reached out to the governor's office to express concern about the vocal opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union to the pending contract. Oppedyk did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
"It is against the law to cross the U.S. border without documentation obtained through the legal immigration process," Otter wrote. "By definition, those who enter our country outside that process break the law, regardless of the circumstances they left behind or the sacrifices they make to come here."
ACLU officials are monitoring the contract negotiations and encouraging local protesters in their opposition to the possible deal, but no lawsuit has been filed.
Under the pending contract with ICE, the new Jerome County jail would set aside 50 beds for ICE at a rate of $75 per bed per day, estimated to bring in an additional $1.34 million to the rural county annually. Opponents contend that any extra revenue will be offset by the loss of revenue if Hispanic workers leave the county.
The area has large dairy operations that employ Hispanic workers, and that industry has been lobbying against allowing federal officials to use the Jerome County Jail. Protesters have flooded county commissioner meetings to ask officials to rebuff the contract.
Federal officials are looking for a new location because of the loss last year of access to 300 beds at the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Jerome County has the second-highest Hispanic population in Idaho.