County sheriffs who run America’s jails are increasingly refusing to honor federal requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
In most jails, incoming inmates are fingerprinted and run through a federal system to check their immigration status. The Department of Homeland Security then flags those suspected of being in the country illegally and issues a “detainer” — a form many sheriffs believed was equivalent to a warrant — to hold onto the person until Immigrations and Customs Enforcement can come get them for possible deportation.
But a series of court decisions has made it clear to sheriffs that the detainers are simply requests, and that holding onto people after they’ve finished their sentence or would otherwise be eligible to get bailed out violates the Constitution.
“I’m not taking a stand on immigration, but I’d like to point out that the system is really screwed up, and they’re leaving us in a bad position. There needs to be a better way to do business,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. “Everybody is being forced to have their county attorneys look at this … and change their policy.”
Pelle in April joined several other Colorado sheriffs in announcing he would no longer honor the ICE requests. The detainers request that sheriffs hold a suspected undocumented immigrant for up to 48 hours beyond their normal release time. Add in weekends and holidays, and 48 hours can stretch to nearly a week, says Mark Silverstein of the Colorado ACLU. Boulder County saw about 150 ICE detainer requests in 2013, Pelle said, out of 10,000 bookings.
“Even 48 hours is a very long time to someone who should be free,” Silverstein said. “The government has to have adequate grounds to deprive someone of their liberty. Even for a few minutes, it needs to be justified.”
Thirty counties in Oregon changed their policies following a an April federal court decision that ruled Clackamas County violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a woman held on a detainer even though she was eligible to post bail. California’s Sonoma County in early May became one of the most recent counties to require ICE agents to get a court warrant in order to hold onto suspected undocumented immigrants.
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SOURCE: Trevor Hughes