Federal immigration agents could be asked to identify themselves while on Hennepin County property, according to a resolution being considered by the County Board.
"We have a responsibility to make sure that people are safe within our building," Board Chairwoman Jan Callison said while introducing the resolution Tuesday. "We have an expectation about how people should be treated within our building."
The board is expected to vote to create the policy next week. If approved, the board will review the policy by mid-November.
The resolution calls for a policy directing how federal immigration agents should behave while on county property, such as the Hennepin County Government Center.
It could include asking federal agents to notify county officials of their presence and identify themselves as they make an arrest.
The County Board acknowledged that the federal government can enforce immigration law, "but believes that public safety is improved when such enforcement is undertaken respectfully and transparently," according to the proposed resolution.
Callison said that the policy was "not my attempt to ban [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents from county properties."
A majority of commissioners said Tuesday that they supported the proposal. Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said it could help remove a "chilling effect" which causes some people to feel unsafe when going to county buildings for services.
"It's important that we guard against that kind of impact," he said.
Commissioner Mike Opat said he hopes the policy helps clarify who is on county property.
"We should always know who's in our building if they're undertaking a law enforcement purpose," he said, adding that the purpose of immigration agents "is not untoward, it's just confusing."
John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, which has partnered with the county to provide legal aid, said he did not "have high expectations that ICE is going to do anything in reaction to the request, but we have to start somewhere."
ICE officials on Wednesday declined to comment on the county's proposed policy. They stated that ICE officers and agents must always identify themselves to people they're arresting and that they're easily identifiable as officers when making an arrest, but added that they're not required to identify themselves to bystanders.
If the resolution is approved, county staffers would determine exactly where the policy would apply. It likely would not include courtrooms, according to Callison.
Local activists and public defenders said there have been incidents when ICE agents swiftly detained immigrants in courthouses, including one in St. Paul where the agents were in plainclothes, the Star Tribune reported earlier this month. Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty said agents had arrested someone at the probation office at the Government Center.
The resolution came a week after the County Board approved a $275,000 contract to provide legal representation for residents facing deportation. That service will begin next week.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753