Legal Concerns Push Counties to Limit ICE Detainers

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Doña Ana County in New Mexico announced this week it will stop honoring detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at the county jail, becoming the most recent in a string of local jurisdictions across the country to limit their compliance with detainers. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, county commissioners approved a measure in April asking for “clear policies” to make sure sheriff’s deputies avoid enforcing federal immigration laws. Advocates say the change will help people to feel more comfortable cooperating with local law enforcement because they will not have to worry about being held in jail because of an ICE hold request. “That should not be the role of the detention center, and the commissioners recognized that,” said Jed Untereker, legal director of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project.

The policy change in Doña Ana comes on the heels of a settlement between two sisters who were held for two months in 2012 at the Doña Ana County Detention Center because of an ICE hold, according to the lawsuit. After sheriff’s deputies arrested the sisters, the Sun-News reports a jail official “told their mother that it would be fruitless to post bond for them because of the ICE holds.” Instead, the sisters pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Untereker said they would have disputed the charges but entered the pleas to get out of jail. And theirs is not the only incident, according to the lawsuit. Between April 2012 and April 2013, the Sun-News reports that the county jail honored 463 immigration holds; only three of those people posted bond.

As part of the settlement agreement, the county paid $35,000 in legal fees and $10,000 to each woman. County spokesman Jess Williams said the county made a decision to change its policy regarding detainer requests from ICE independent of the settlement.

While almost every other county in New Mexico other than Doña Ana continues to honor ICE detainers, a sweeping number of local jurisdictions continue to limit their policies across the country. In Kansas, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said earlier in June that the Sedgwick County Jail “will no longer honor requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates past the completion of their sentences,” according to The Wichita Eagle. “We could be liable for holding someone against their will, is what it comes down to,” Easter said. “I don’t know if the taxpayers of Sedgwick County want to pay for a lawsuit like that.”

And in Minnesota, officials in Hennepin County (which includes Minneapolis) and Ramsey County (home of St. Paul) announced this month that they would stop honoring ICE detainer requests without a judge’s order. Similar to Sedgwick, Hennepin officials cited constitutional concerns after a spate of federal rulings that said detainers were not mandatory. “This is an historic occasion,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said, according to the Star Tribune. “There is no legal basis to hold people with detainers.”

After a spate of federal rulings that found that detainers were not mandatory, increasingly, more and more local officials seem to be coming to the same conclusion as county leaders in Doña Ana, Sedgwick, Hennepin, and Ramsey and limiting their involvement with ICE detainer requests.

UPDATE: Five counties in Iowa—Story, Johnson, Linn, Clinton, and Sioux—also confirmed this week that they will no longer enforce ICE detainers. Sioux County falls in Republican Rep. Steve King’s heavily conservative district. And in Arizona, South Tucson has changed its policy on honoring ICE holds to say that police “shall not detain a person solely on the basis of an ICE detainer that is not supported by probable cause or that is facially invalid.” The policy change is part of a settlement agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union and local officials.

Photo by Brian Turner.

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