Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2014
Emboldened by recent court rulings, more and more counties and cities across the country are refusing to jail inmates extra days to give federal authorities time to deport them.
In most jails until recently, inmates booked on criminal charges and suspected of being in the country illegally were often held for an additional 48 hours at the behest of federal immigration officials.
These “holds” created a pipeline for the deportation of thousands of people from the United States in the last decade. Now, that enforcement tool is crumbling.
Although some localities started limiting the number of immigration holds a few years ago, the trend of completely ignoring the requests gathered steam this spring after a series of federal court rulings determined that the immigration holds are not mandatory and that local agencies should not be compelled to follow them.
Currently, more than 225 local law enforcement agencies nationwide have adopted policies to completely ignore requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to hold an inmate for an additional 48 hours after his or her scheduled release date from jail. Another 25 agencies have limited the number of immigration requests they will honor. New York City is among those considering ways to stop or limit holds.
In reaction to the trend, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said in a statement that the agency will continue to work with local agencies “to enforce its priorities through the identification and removal of convicted criminals and other public safety threats.”
In March, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania ruled that states and local law enforcement agencies had no obligation to comply with immigration hold requests because the requests did not amount to the probable cause required by the Constitution to keep someone in jail. Other courts have come to similar conclusions.
In New Mexico, all county jails are no longer honoring immigration holds, said Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Assn. of Counties.
Some county officials stopped the practice because they were fearful of exposing themselves to expensive litigation, Philips said. Others saw it as a way of relieving their already overburdened jails, especially because the Department of Homeland Security did not reimburse localities for housing the inmates during the extended stay.
In California, a state law implemented in January–the Trust Act–stipulates that law enforcement agencies can only honor immigration holds if the inmate who is suspected of being in the country illegally has been charged with, or convicted of, a serious offense. Also, most law enforcement agencies in the state–including the Los Angeles Police Department–adopted policies ignoring the immigration holds altogether after the federal rulings came down.
Colorado this year has become the first state to pass a law compelling local agencies to ignore immigration detainers.