On Aug. 17, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit against Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening over his policy of honoring ICE’s requests that he hold individuals in his custody beyond their scheduled release. “Minnesota law requires Sheriff Wilkening to release people over whom he no longer has authority, yet he frequently holds immigrants in the Nobles County jail illegally for days, weeks, and even months,” the ACLU writes in a brief. According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff posted the $10,000 bond set by the court, but the sheriff’s office kept detaining her, and jail deputies simply refused to accept another plaintiff’s bond payment. The ACLU has sued Wilkening in the past and in 2017 successfully settled a case of unlawful detention.
Besides honoring ICE detainer requests, Nobles is also one of five Minnesota counties that rent out jail space to ICE for the agency to detain people it arrests in Minnesota and surrounding states. “Ten years ago, ICE wasn’t housing anyone with us at all,” Wilkening—who has served since 1999—noted in July. This is a financially lucrative arrangement for these counties, whose revenues rose in 2017 as the Trump administration increased the number of immigration detentions. “It’s a big business making profit off of detaining individuals who are not criminals,” an activist with the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee told the Star Tribune.
If Nobles County illustrates the reach of local government, it also exemplifies how rarely sheriffs have to worry about their actions having electoral ramifications. Wilkening is up for re-election this year, but he is unopposed. He also faced no opponent whatsoever in 2006, 2010, and 2014.
published on Aug. 23, 2018 | Daniel Nichanian