OGDEN -- U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday to look into issues surrounding federal audits that resulted in the June removal of 32 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees from Weber County Jail.
"I'm all for good conditions in our jails," Hatch said in a phone interview with the Standard-Examiner.
"If they are good enough for U.S. inmates, they should be good enough for criminal aliens."
Hatch said he is cautiously optimistic that Napolitano will explore what jails like Weber County's can do to comply with costly or onerous ICE detention standards.
"This administration (of President Barack Obama) has not been good about getting back to Congress with more information, but I will stay on them," he said.
Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said his agency asked Hatch for assistance regarding the ICE audit.
ICE informed Weber County Jail officials in September that they didn't pass annual audits and that requirements outlined in the reports are non-negotiable.
For example, ICE mandates that its detainees don't undergo strip searches, don't have to pay the $10 co-pays for medical treatment, can't have their mail read like other inmates' and deserve their own barbershop.
"An exclusive barbershop?" Hatch asked during his phone interview with the Standard-Examiner, bristling at one of the ICE requirements.
"Give me a break."
Thompson said the jail can't comply with such directives for the small group of 30 to 60 ICE inmates held at any given time at the facility that routinely houses almost 900 prisoners, because it would amount to disparate treatment.
In addition, prohibiting strip searches of ICE inmates for sharp objects after they leave the jail's kitchen and barbershop poses safety problems for corrections officers and other inmates, he said.
Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman, defended the audits.
"Recent assessments of the Weber County Jail, performed by ICE and an independent contractor, revealed the facility was deficient in a number of areas," she said in a prepared statement.
"... All ICE detainees were transferred out of the Weber County Jail in late June when the compliance issues became a concern. ICE values its relationship with the Weber County Sheriff's Office and appreciates all of the support the sheriff and his personnel provide.
"We look forward to continuing to work closely with the sheriff's office on current and future endeavors."
Removal of ICE detainees could result in a loss of $800,000 to $1.5 million annually to the sheriff's office budget, Thompson said.
The shortfall will be covered through belt-tightening and reduction in staff through attrition but no layoffs, he said.
In addition, the jail will seek to take additional inmates from other contracted agencies that lease beds.
ICE paid Weber County Jail $55 a day per detainee.
Weber was one of only three county jails in the state housing ICE detainees long term, the others being Utah and Washington.
ICE now pays to shuttle its Northern Utah detainees from Utah County Jail to Ogden and points north for court hearings.
The ICE detainees -- picked up on criminal offenses and then found upon booking at the jail to be illegal immigrants -- were the smallest category of prisoners in the Weber County lockup.
The jail still houses about 200 federal prisoners booked by the U.S. Marshals Service, said Lt. Mark Lowther, a spokesman for the Weber County Sheriff's Office.
The marshals' audits of the jail have all been largely favorable over the years, as have the ICE inspections until this year, Lowther said.
One of the frustrations is that ICE contracts with various private firms to perform jail audits, and each group of inspectors seems to have a different interpretation of ICE regulations, Lowther said.
"There is inconsistency with the auditing groups."