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U.S. Names Localities That Refuse to Detain Undocumented Immigrants Law Enforcement Agencies Bristle at U.S. Report on Immigration Detention
(about 4 hours later)
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security on Monday released a report naming local jurisdictions that do not cooperate with the agency to detain people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, a key requirement of the executive order President Trump signed in January. WASHINGTON — One of President Trump’s first executive orders promised a weekly recounting of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and a list of the recalcitrant local law enforcement departments that failed to turn those people over to federal officials.
The report, which covers Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deportations, issued 3,083 detainers, which are requests to local police to hold people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security on Monday delivered the first report. But rather than provide a complete tally, it contained misleading information that only prompted confusion and defiance from law enforcement officials from the jurisdictions in question.
The immigration agency reports show 206 of those detainers were declined by local law enforcement agencies. Travis County, Tex., which includes the city of Austin, declined the most detainers 142. Los Angeles declined five and New York City declined four. The report, which covers Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deportations, issued 3,083 detainers, which are requests to local police departments to hold undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents who could be deported.
The report listed jurisdictions that do not comply with detainers, and sorted them chronologically by their “new level of cooperation.” The report said that New York amended its law in March 2013 not to honor a detainer. But the New York City Council enacted its local law in October 2014, and said it superseded any previous agreement. That law, which was approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2014, did allow for some cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement: if the detention order is accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person in custody has been convicted of one of 170 serious felonies such as arson, robbery or homicide. The report showed, however, that only 206 of those detainers were declined by local law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, ICE officials say the lack of cooperation endangers Americans.
The report also includes the Nassau County sheriff’s office in the list of jurisdictions that since 2014 have not honored detainers without a warrant. But Nassau has been honoring some detention requests: those that come with an administrative warrant or a judicial order of deportation. In addition, immigration officers work in the Nassau County jail, unlike in New York City, where immigration officers were barred from Rikers Island because of the 2014 law. “When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” said Thomas Homan, the agency’s acting director.
Courts have also ruled that localities do not have to comply with detainers. A federal district court in Illinois in 2014 found that detainers violate federal law because they exceed the government’s warrantless arrest authority. The court said that federal immigration authorities must have a warrant if they want to take custody of an immigrant who is held in local custody. But one of the nation’s larger counties Nassau County, on Long Island was erroneously included in the government’s report as a noncooperative jurisdiction.
“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” Thomas Homan, the agency’s acting director, said. “We have tried to be cooperative and it’s unfair and misleading to suggest that we’re not especially in these times,” said Capt. Michael Golio, a spokesman for the Nassau County sheriff’s office.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes detainer requests to local law enforcement or jails to hold a person for 48 additional hours past their scheduled release if the agency believes the person is subject to deportation. The agency said this allowed time for its officers to question the person or take them to an agency facility where they can be held pending a deportation hearing. Captain Golio said that after the release of the report, ICE contacted him and assured him it would remove Nassau from the next report. Officials at ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the apparent correction.
Numerous jurisdictions bar their law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the agency in honoring the detainers. The localities, also known as “sanctuary cities,” refuse orders to detain suspects or even convicted criminals who have completed their sentences. The Nassau County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first to agree to accept administrative warrants from the agency, said Mr. Golio, who negotiated this change. At the time, Nassau County was criticized by immigration advocates for being too aggressive: It broke from the policies many departments enacted in 2014 after federal lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Oregon declared that accepting detainers without judicial warrants was unconstitutional and that counties could be held liable.
Others localities refuse to furnish information on undocumented immigrants who have been stopped for infractions like a traffic ticket. The Nassau County sheriff’s office won a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in December 2015 that proved an administrative warrant more complete than a basic ICE detainer satisfied probable cause for a person to be detained.
As a result, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say dozens of criminals that should have been deported have been released. To facilitate ICE’s work in the county, the Nassau sheriff’s office has allowed the agency to have a permanent presence in the county jails, giving agents immediate access to interview inmates. This is different than New York City’s policy, which changed in 2014 to abolish the ICE presence at Rikers Island.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized these sanctuary cities for being uncooperative with federal immigration authorities. Mr. Trump’s executive order would also try to block federal funding to sanctuary cities. On Thursday, New York’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, said the report not only misrepresented New York’s law, but facts about cities’ and counties’ policies.
Among the people that the immigration agency listed as having been released by local officials despite the detainer requests was Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, a member of the MS-13 gang, who was released from New York City custody despite a request to detain him. “This ignores the fact that federal courts have repeatedly held that immigration detainers are optional requests and cannot be made mandatory under the Constitution,” Ms. Agarwal said.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mr. Velasquez had a criminal history in this country that includes reckless endangerment in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, and disorderly conduct. Indeed, even ICE recognized this in a “Frequently Asked Questions” section included in the report’s release.
The report also listed Ramon Aguirre Ochoa, who was first deported in May 2009. In 2015, Mr. Ochoa was arrested on domestic aggravated assault charges in Philadelphia. The charges against Mr. Ochoa were dismissed and he was released despite a detainer to be taken into custody. The report said New York amended its law in March 2013 not to honor a detainer. But the New York City Council enacted its local law in October 2014, and said it superseded any previous agreement. That law, which was approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2014, did allow for some cooperation with ICE if the detention order is accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person in custody has been convicted of one of 170 serious felonies such as arson, robbery or homicide within the last five years.
He was arrested again in Philadelphia in July 2016, and charged with having sex with a minor and assault. Ms. Agarwal said that public safety depends on the trust between police and community, and to that end, the city’s police officials “voluntarily respond to requests from federal immigration authorities when they’re looking for an individual in our custody who is a serious threat to the safety of all New Yorkers, immigrant or otherwise.”
Critics of the detainers say they can lead to racial profiling and holding people by mistake. One jurisdiction, however, did not deny its so-called sanctuary city policy that shields immigrants from detainers.
In 2014, a prison in Lehigh County, Pa., held Ernesto Galarza for three days at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which suspected that he was an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic. Mr. Galarza was actually born in New Jersey. Travis County, Tex., which includes the city of Austin, declined the most detainers, 142, out of the 206 rejections nationwide listed in the ICE report.
The detainer report comes on the heels of Mr. Trump’s first budget proposal, released last week, that requests $1.5 billion for expanded detention, transportation and removal of undocumented immigrants. The proposal also calls for $314 million to begin hiring 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 500 new Border Patrol agents next year. Mr. Trump ultimately wants to hire 10,000 immigration officers and 5,000 border agents for his immigration crackdown. Officials in Travis County said the high number of declined requests was the result of a change in policy by Sally Hernandez, a Democrat who became sheriff in January. She announced that unless individuals in the Travis County jail had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling, they would be allowed to post bond and released despite requests from ICE.
The Travis County policy has been criticized by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has threatened to cut off Texas’ criminal justice grant funding for the county.
After the release of Monday’s report, Mr. Abbott said the findings highlighted the need to get rid of sanctuary cities in the state.
“The Travis County Sheriff’s decision to deny ICE detainer requests and release back into our communities criminals charged with heinous crimes – including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence and kidnapping – is dangerous and should be criminal in itself,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement.
Since Mr. Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin compiling a list of local law enforcement agencies that did not honor detainers, some localities have said publishing the data is simply a way to embarrass them into complying with ICE requests.
“This is a shaming list, a scarlet letter that the federal government is going to put on jurisdictions around the country,” said Dennis Herrera, San Francisco’s city attorney.