Cities and Counties Stand Up for the Constitution

Author: on 05/30/2014


shutterstock_103176035Cities across the country have been following a federal policy that law enforcement officials increasingly describe as harmful to public safety and that courts now call unconstitutional.  I’m glad to know that Philadelphia is no longer one of them.

My mayor, Michael Nutter, signed an executive order last month preventing law enforcement officials from keeping people in jail on the basis of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer request, unless it’s accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person has been convicted of a violent felony.  These detainers request that state and local police hold people in jail, without a warrant or the guarantee of a prompt hearing before a judge.  States, counties and cities have spent millions of their own tax dollars complying with detainers that jail people who may (or may not) be deportable from the United States.  As an immigration attorney, I know first-hand the disastrous impact that reckless immigration enforcement practices can have on families and communities and I’m proud that my city and mayor have said no.

When issuing the order, Mayor Nutter cited the impact on public safety as one reason for his decision. “As a result of overly aggressive use of these detainers, there has been a negative impact on some immigrants who will not report crimes to the police, don’t want to be witnesses, and suffer accordingly.”  The University of Illinois at Chicago recently found that 44% of Latinos were less likely to call the police if they became the victim of a crime, when they live in jurisdictions where police are heavily involved in immigration enforcement.

Philadelphia is not the only place that’s saying no. More states and localities around the country, from  California (San Diego County and San Francisco just announced as well) to Connecticut, are refusing to honor these hold requests.  And the courts are agreeing with them.  In the last few months, three separate federal cases have confirmed that detainers are voluntary requests and that local law enforcement can be sued for violations of the Constitution if they choose to honor these ICE requests, including a case involving Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. And just recently, a federal judge held Clackamas County, Oregon liable for violating the Fourth Amendment for holding an individual solely on an ICE detainer without probable cause.

The Oregon decision sent shockwaves through counties all over the Northwest. Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County, Colorado called the judge’s decision in this case a “game changer.” Law enforcement officials from counties in Oregon, Washington and Colorado immediately announced they would no longer continue business-as-usual with respect to these immigration holds—joining places like Philadelphia that have already said no.

Detainers are fundamentally flawed. They are not making communities safer. They are expensive. That’s why states and localities are pushing back.  They’re making their own decisions about what’s best for their communities. As the president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association Gary Bettencourt said, “We will no longer violate anybody’s constitutional rights, I can guarantee that.”

If AILA members and the public want to advocate against detainers, it’s plain to see we have plenty of company from law enforcement and the courts. Let’s work to get more cities and localities across the nation on board.

William Stock, AILA Second Vice President

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