8667136547_206793c3e1_hNew Orleans has stopped honoring detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials—the first Southern city to do so—now that the Orleans Parish sheriff’s office will no longer detain people who are suspected of being undocumented immigrants. According to The New York Times, the sheriff’s office will “decline all ICE detention requests except when a person is being held on certain specific serious charges.” For individuals with those charges, the sheriff will defer to the recommendation of the criminal court. The parish sheriff will no longer investigate an individual’s immigration status. ICE may not conduct investigations into civil violations of immigration law in the jail. If ICE wants to conduct a criminal investigation in the jail, ICE must provide reasonable notice and opportunity for the individual’s attorney to be present at any interview.

The new policy regarding ICE detainer requests is similar to others implemented in Chicago, New York City, and Connecticut, for example. Legislation that would also limit localities from honoring ICE detainers is pending in California and Massachusetts But as The New York Times reports, the New Orleans policy goes much farther and comes at a time when the city has been “wrestling with the Department of Justice” on a wide overhaul of the local criminal justice system.

The policy change also is the result of the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice on behalf of two men who were held on expired detention requests for months in the Orleans Parish Prison. One of the men, Mario Cacho, was held for more than 160 days, after he finished a three-week sentence, before being eventually transferred to federal custody and deported to Honduras. While the lawsuit was working its way through the court system, the Justice Department was also investigating the Orleans Parish jail for constitutional violations. Federal officials discovered that jail staff in charge of tracking detention requests seemed “to rely upon memory or handwritten notes on files” and could not communicate with detainees in Spanish.

Because the new detainer policy, which became effective last month, was part of a federal court settlement, The New York Times reports it is “binding in a way that some of the other ordinances around the country are not.” It is also a policy change that local officials wanted. In May, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution demanding that the parish sheriff draft a new immigration detention policy and stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants for federal officials. “At a time in which we are arguing about money for the jail, it makes no sense that we’re spending money on holding people in jail improperly,” said Councilman James Gray.

Early in January, ICE released a new guidance on its detainer policies, instructing agency employees to only file detainers against immigrants who represent agency “priorities.” But the guidelines contained so many loopholes that it was not expected to have much practical effect. Instead, New Orleans is the latest example of a local government entity placing the costly burden of immigration enforcement back on the shoulders of the federal government where it belongs.

Photo Courtesy of Owen Allen.

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