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2018 Election Preview: Sheriff of El Paso County, Colorado

Immigration enforcement at forefront of sheriff race in El Paso, Colorado

Immigration enforcement at forefront of sheriff race in El Paso, Colorado

El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs, has been an epicenter of the ACLU’s fight against unlawful immigration detentions. In March, a state judge granted a preliminary injunction against Sheriff Bill Elder’s practice of detaining people otherwise eligible for release because of requests by ICE; these detentions can be lucrative for counties, paid by ICE for each detention. Elder has since defended his cooperation with ICE, and in May county officials renewed their contract with the federal agency.

In the hotly contested Republican primary for sheriff, however, Elder’s opponent has attacked him for being too lenient. Elder is facing Mike Angley, a retired Air Force Colonel who as of May 31 had significantly outspent Elder because he loaned his campaign $140,000. Angley says that Elder releases undocumented immigrants too quickly, and he is campaigning on a promise to extend detentions. Angley wishes to enter into a 287(g) agreement with ICE; this would empower local officers to act as federal immigration agents. To rebut Angley’s characterization of his tenure, Elder has cited the ACLU’s lawsuit against his own detention practices as a positive.

Elder has also been hit by reports of poor medical care and inadequate food at the El Paso jail, as well as reports that an employee suffered retaliation after voicing a sexual harassment complaint. In this heavily Republican county, the winner of the GOP primary will go on to face Democrat Grace Sweeney-Maurer, who had been outraised nearly 80 to 1 by Elder as of the end of May.

In another sheriff’s race in Colorado—this one in Larimer County—Sheriff Justin Smith is running for re-election unopposed. He faces no challenger in the GOP primary, and no Democrat has filed to run against him in a county that Hillary Clinton carried over Donald Trump in 2016. Smith drew national coverage in March when he flew to the White House to meet with President Trump. Smith, who has written in defense of collaborating with ICE, talked about his opposition to sanctuary city policies and asked for federal financial help against lawsuits by the ACLU.

Update: Bill Elder won the GOP primary on June 26, 2018. In this traditionally Republican-voting county, he then defeated Democratic nominee Grace Sweeney-Maurer in the November general election.