Blaine County Detention Center

Communication between the Blaine County Detention Center and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement is at the center of ongoing tension between the the Blaine County commissioners and sheriff's office.

Simmering tensions between the Blaine County commissioners and Sheriff Steve Harkins over local immigration enforcement—and the boundaries of control local elected officials wield over their respective jurisdictions—spilled into public last week following an open meeting at the Old County Courthouse and a subsequent response from the sheriff’s office.

Following public comment from immigration advocates and citing their individual values, the three county commissioners on July 19 stalled plans to accept a federal award aimed at reimbursing the Blaine County Detention Center for costs associated with jailing undocumented immigrants with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions held for four or more days at the Hailey facility. After fees, the Department of Justice’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, award would have reimbursed about 80% of the roughly $14,500 in officer salary costs incurred for inmates who met the grant’s qualifications in 2020. That’s less than 1% of the roughly $1.75 million in salary the county typically pays to staff the jail each year, not counting benefits.

But the sum of the grant, which Harkins says the county has accepted annually since 2001, was secondary to last week’s debate among the commissioners—a debate that piggybacks on preliminary musings about how the board views local immigration action, in general. Last week’s discussion instead veered toward appeals for transparency about how the sheriff interacts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and whether accepting federal money that reimburses undocumented immigrants for four or more days creates an incentive to jail them for longer periods of time, or encourages racial profiling—a focal point during the public comment section of the meeting.

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Sheriff Steve Harkins

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