Did the LA County Sheriff’s Department, ICE detain inmates for too long? A federal court thinks so
uary 9, 2018 at 7:37 pm | UPDATED: February 9, 2018 at 7:38 pmImmigrant rights’ advocates are celebrating a federal court ruling that found, in part, that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department violated the Constitution when it held jail inmates longer than their release dates for immigration purposes.
Thursday’s decision by the Central District of California means that the Sheriff’s Department unlawfully held thousands of suspected immigrant inmates on the basis of these “immigration detainers” between 2010-2014 – some for days after their release date – without probable cause of a crime, according to civil rights groups and attorneys involved in the case.
The court’s ruling, which stemmed from lawsuits filed against the Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also found it’s unconstitutional or illegal for ICE to issue such immigration holds for certain inmates. Advocates say this also affects thousands of people.
“It’s hugely significant,” said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of California and a senior staff attorney for ACLU of Southern California. “It’s the first class-action seeking damages that has addressed the detainer issues … nationwide that I know of.”
Pasquerella noted that many law enforcement agencies had stopped holding inmates past their release date for federal immigration authorities due to these legal concerns, which is why the debate over sanctuary cities and states has exploded.
“The Trump administration has been trying all manner of ways to coerce police to comply with them, but this reaffirms that there is no legal authority for them to comply – nor is there necessarily authority for ICE to be issuing them in the first place,” she said.
Every person who was held on an immigration detainer by the Sheriff’s Department during those five years should benefit from the ruling, Pasquarella said. The ACLU estimates that number to be between 10,000 and 12,000 people.
“The next stage is to determine damages,” Pasquarella explained. “They may be eligible for compensation.”
Because holding inmates longer than their release dates constitutes a new arrest under the Fourth Amendment, Sheriff’s Department officials could only arrest these individuals if deputies had “probable cause” to suspect they were involved in criminal activity, the court stated in its ruling.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
“The LASD officers have no authority to arrest individuals for civil immigration offenses, and thus, detaining individuals beyond their date for release violated the individuals’ Fourth Amendment Rights,” the ruling stated.
The Supreme Court has said that local officers generally lack authority to arrest people suspected of civil immigration violations, the ruling added.
The Sheriff’s Department, in a written statement, said that it could not get into specifics concerning the lawsuit. But it noted that the lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, involved past practices.
“Currently, the Sheriff’s Department does not detain any inmate beyond their normal release date regardless of whether or not there is a valid ICE detainer,” the department said. “This has been the standard practice since 2014.”
It was unclear if the department would appeal the decision.
The Central District of California’s ruling also found Thursday that it’s unconstitutional for ICE to issue immigration detainers for inmates based on evidence of a person’s foreign birthplace without records in an immigration database. The court also found it illegal for ICE to issue detainers without an administrative warrant signed by an ICE officer.
Those decisions apply to all detainers issued from ICE offices in California, said Jessica Bansal, litigation director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She noted the federal agency has an office in Laguna Niguel that issues detainers around the country.
Now that the ruling has been made, the court could issue an injunction lifting these immigration holds, Bansal said.
ICE implemented a policy last year whereby warrants are now issued with detainers, she added. However, they were not generally issued before April, 2017.
ICE does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy, spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said. But she noted that lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with any of the allegations.
“In (Department of Homeland Security’s) homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission, uphold our laws while continuing to provide our nation with safety and security,” she said in an email.
Several issues still need to be resolved during the trial of this case, including whether ICE’s databases are accurate and complete enough for the agency to issue immigration holds for any inmate, according to the plaintiffs.
The two lawsuits, which have been combined, were filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the law firm of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
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Brenda GazzarBrenda Gazzar is a multilingual multimedia reporter who has worked for a variety of news outlets in California and in the Middle East since 2000. She has covered a range of issues, including breaking news, immigration, law and order, race, religion and gender issues, politics, human interest stories and education. Besides the Los Angeles Daily News and its sister papers, her work has been published by Reuters, the Denver Post, Ms. Magazine, the Jerusalem Post, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Cairo Times and others. Brenda speaks Spanish, Hebrew and intermediate Arabic and is the recipient of national, state and regional awards, including a National Headliners Award and one from the Associated Press News Executives' Council. She holds a dual master's degree in Communications/Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.
Follow Brenda Gazzar @bgazzar
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