Los Angeles County Faces Sweeping Suit Over ICE Detainers

Under the Constitution, it has long been established that the government needs “probable cause” to hold an individual in custody, and that people granted bail must be released once it is paid. In a class-action lawsuit filed last Friday by numerous immigrants’ rights groups, Los Angeles County and Sheriff Lee Baca stand accused of flouting both principles by holding inmates for weeks at a time solely at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Filed in a federal court in Los Angeles, the lawsuit represents the latest attack in a string of legal challenges to the use of immigration “detainers,” or requests from ICE asking local jails to continue holding inmates in custody after they would otherwise be entitled to release. Unlike criminal arrest warrants, which are based upon probable cause and must be issued by a neutral judge, detainers (also known as ICE “holds”) are simply a form that can be issued by virtually any ICE officer and require no proof that an inmate is an immigrant or removable from the country—which is why many detainers have been mistakenly placed on U.S. citizens.

The lead plaintiff in the case, a British filmmaker named Duncan Roy, demonstrates the Kafkaesque reality facing inmates held on immigration detainers. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him in mid-November last year for allegedly threatening to extort an ex-boyfriend over a fraudulent land deal. A bondsman attempted to post bail for Roy—who was lawfully present at the time of his arrest—on multiple occasions, only to be told he was ineligible for release due to a pending ICE detainer. Unable to post bond, Roy remained in county custody for 89 days, causing him to lose rental income from a home he owns in Malibu and, ironically, to remain beyond his period of authorized stay in the United States (which could make it more difficult for him to return in the future).

Although Roy serves as the lead plaintiff in the case, the suit was filed on behalf of all persons in Los Angeles county who have been prevented from posting bond—or held in detention despite being legally entitled to release—due to the existence of an ICE detainer. Of the approximately 2,100 inmates in the county who are subject to a detainer on any given day, only a small minority involve inmates who are already subject to an order of removal or who have been summoned to appear in immigration court. More than 75% of detainers were instead issued so that ICE could start investigating an inmate’s immigration status, meaning that the county was asked to continue holding individuals for whom the agency itself lacked sufficient evidence (i.e. probable cause) to assume custody.

In addition to violating numerous constitutional provisions, holding inmates on ICE detainers is also unwise as a matter of policy. As noted in the complaint, many suspects held on detainers are effectively coerced into taking plea deals they would not otherwise accept to avoid languishing in jail while their trial is pending. As the complaint also notes, detainers impose a high fiscal cost on local jails. In Los Angeles, for example, holding one inmate overnight costs between $100 and $150, none of which is reimbursed by the federal government. Indeed, according to a report issued in August by Justice Strategies, the county spends over $26 million each year detaining immigrants on ICE’s behalf.

For years, immigrants’ rights groups have warned local law enforcement agencies that honoring detainers can subject municipalities to significant legal damages. Although the taxpayers of Los Angeles are not themselves at fault, they may now have to foot the bill for Sheriff Baca’s unconstitutional collaboration with ICE.

Photo by David Markland / L.A. Metblogs

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  • eduardo

    Cual sera el fin de mi rasa;) es una estupides lo que asen en contra de mi. Rasa por que entremas metan leyes inpocritas nosotros segiremos aqui. Y a ta la prueba inbentan leyes una tras otra. Y pos aqui. Estamos toda bia. No i otra cosa ay bienen los , hijos de nosotros los ilegales asi como ustedes nos yaman. O sera que tienen miedo de que este pais ba ser de nosotro no cabe. Duda son personas tonta y inpocritas. La berdad yuo quiero a este pais por que es el pais de mis hijos; ( que dios los bendiga. A esas personas que inbentan tantas leyes Rasistas

  • When there is an ICE detainer, local law enforcement is supposed to keep the person for only 48 hours to let ICE decide whether to commence removal proceedings. In practice, local law enforcement tends to give ICE complete deference and has been known to hold people for much longer.

    But this is only one of the many problems of the current law when it comes to detaining people for immigration proceedings. Mandatory detention is another. There is no discretion to let someone convicted of certain crimes be released on bond, even if that person has other forms of immigration relief available. The effect is that the person winds up getting punished twice for the same crime. In some cases, the immigration detention is even longer than the original prison sentence.

  • Victoria Sethunya

    Besides coercion into plea deals, has anyone investigated forced fingerprinting on detainees who do not understand English and are unwilling to sign because they do not understand the ICE documents they are being asked to sign.
    A case in context happened involves a Chinese resident who was refusing to sign ICE papers while in custody. From what I understand, officers grabbed his hand, pressed thumb or finger on ink and had him “sign” for his deportation.
    I cannot imagine that there is another way to insult the US Constitution by using force to have detainees sign documents in a language they do not understand. It is sad that this is the America we have to settle for….I hope it is not!

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