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Penzone asks DHS head to set federal guidelines regarding immigrant holds

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, left, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. (AP Photos)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Thursday, asking the agency to set federal guidelines regarding courtesy holds for undocumented immigrants.

“I request that DHS immediately prioritize this issue to assist local government,” part of the letter read. “It is time for the federal government to lead this effort and provide consistent, legal and constitutional guidelines for local and state law enforcement officials.”

“The limits of our authority must be taken into consideration and respected, as current circumstances have jeopardized the stability of our communities and the reputations of our agencies,” the letter continued.

Penzone said the letter is meant to start a dialogue and offered to travel to Washington, D.C. in order to “assist with these efforts.”

Penzone came under fire after rescinding a policy on Feb. 17 that kept immigrants locked up in his jails past their release date to give federal authorities extra time to launch deportation proceedings.

The sheriff said legal issues surrounding the policy, which was enacted by Penzone’s controversial predecessor, Joe Arpaio, left him no choice but to change the rules.

But the move sparked debate about whether Penzone had declared Maricopa County as a sanctuary county.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery defended the move in an interview with Arizona’s Morning News Wednesday, saying the new guidelines should prevent the county from being sued.

“I, for one, am kind of tired of having to pay out taxpayer dollars to resolve civil suits,” Montgomery said.

As of Thursday, federal officials have arrested five of the nearly three dozen undocumented immigrants who were freed from Phoenix jails after the policy was revoked.

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