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Local Law Enforcement Refusing Federal Immigration Holds

Posted by Matthew Green | Oct 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

In a further example of the growing friction between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported that local officials denied 8,800 federal immigration hold requests this year.  As more local law enforcement have fought against enforcing federal immigration policy, that number will likely continue to grow.

Local law enforcement from around the country have released thousands of immigrants from jails.  Some of the immigrants released have previous felony charges or convictions.  Spokesperson for ICE, Virginia Kice has said that of the approximately 105,000 detention requests, 8,800 were refused.  The ICE “detainer requests” are for local law enforcement to detain arrested immigrants for up to an additional 48 hour so that they can be taken into federal custody.

Some 275 counties across the US have refused to notify ICE before releasing an immigrant from custody. According to ICE Field Supervisory Agent David Marin, many of the released immigrants are convicted felons. However, “by law enforcement agencies not honoring our detainers, it really undermines our authority and our mission, which is to go out and protect the public,” said Marin.

Many of these detainer request denials have come from southern California, where most police departments and jails are refusing to turn the individuals over to ICE.  Additionally, northern California has seen a 53 percent decline in transfers to ICE.  California and Colorado even have laws prohibiting local law enforcement from cooperating with ICE.  New York is considering taking similar action.  However, counties in 42 states now count themselves in the group of localities refusing to honor ICE holds.

Cecillia Wang, of the  ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, has spoken out against ICE's detainer request policy. “ICE is relying on this shortcut that casts this wide drag net that has caught US citizens who have been jailed mistakenly as a result of these detainers.  The notion that if these counties don't honor these ICE detainers puts people at risk is simply a fiction,” said Wang.

While immigration officials continue to argue that failing to honor ICE detainer requests poses a public safety threat, others have challenged the constitutionality of these 48 hour additional holds.  A federal court in Oregon ruled a woman's rights were violated after she was held in jail without probable cause.

In Arizona, however, state law requires police to enforce federal immigration policy.  Under the controversial State Bill 1070, police are required to ask about an individual's immigration status.  Tucson Chief of Police, Roberto Villasenor has been an outspoken opponent of SB 1070, however he has indicated that the law requires his department to question immigration status, and he will continue to enforce the law and abide by the state regulations.

Many have argued that requiring local law enforcement to take on federal immigration enforcement creates a distrust of the police in the immigrant communities.  Where people are afraid their immigration status may be detected by the police, they may fail to report other crimes, or cooperate with the police during investigations.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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