4415525521_3cfc411768_bAt least 14 counties in Oregon have stopped honoring detainer requests from federal immigration officials. Their decisions followed a federal court ruling that officials in Clackamas County “violated one woman’s Fourth Amendment rights by holding her for immigration authorities without probable cause,” according to the Oregonian.

Maria Miranda-Olivares sued Clackamas County after she was held for 19 hours after completing a two-day jail sentence in March 2012. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials investigated her residency status during that time. In the ruling against Clackamas County, U.S. District Court Judge Janice Stewart sided with an earlier appeals court decision that said local jurisdictions are not required to honor ICE requests and could be held responsible for wrongfully detaining immigrants. Before, most of Oregon’s 36 counties participated in the Secure Communities Program, in which ICE asks local law enforcement officials to hold specific people for up to two business days until they can be taken into federal custody. Increasing immigration enforcement spending has fueled programs like Secure Communities and helped contribute to record number of deportations.

In the wake of ruling, Clackamas’ sheriff, along with Multnomah and Washington counties, announced its policy change April 16. Under Multnomah County’s new policy, for example, Lt. Steve Alexander, the county sheriff’s spokesman, said ICE will still “have access to a roster of foreign-born detainees, but that the local agencies will no longer prevent certain immigrants from posting bail.” And Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt, president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association whose county also stopped honoring immigration detainer requests, told The New York Times that he expects more of Oregon’s 36 counties to make similar policy changes. “We will no longer violate anybody’s constitutional rights, I can guarantee that,” Bettencourt said.

The ripple effects of the Oregon ruling could be far-reaching; Juliet Stumpf, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, called it a game changer and told The New York Times that it “opens potential liability for counties all over the country for following ICE’s requests.”

Previously, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled in March that states and localities had no obligation to comply with detainer requests, pointing out that Congress did not authorize ICE to order state or local officials to detain individuals pursuant to detainers and that ICE has consistently stated that detainers are merely requests, not orders.

At the same time several Oregon counties changed their policies, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order last week to limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with ICE detainer requests. Under the new policy, “the Philadelphia police will no longer hold undocumented immigrants for ICE officials unless the individual is being released following a first or second degree felony conviction and federal officials obtain a warrant from a judge,” according to a local CBS affiliate. And in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Friday that the Baltimore City Detention Center would stop automatically honoring federal requests to hold immigrants for deportation. Instead, the facility’s new policy is to only honor ICE detainer requests when an immigrant has been charged with or convicted of a felony, three or more misdemeanors, or a “serious” misdemeanor—or the crimes that Secure Communities was originally meant to target, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The growing number of counties in Oregon and cities across the country changing their detainer policies is a positive sign. But rather than have a patchwork of local policies, the potential liability for local jurisdictions is one more reason for Congress to improve immigration policies to better define and limit the authority of states and localities to enforce federal immigration law across the nation.

Photo by Sergio Concepción de Gracia.

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