Law
5:14 pm
Sat July 5, 2014

More Municipalities Deny Federal Requests, Won't Detain Immigrants

Originally published on Sun July 6, 2014 10:42 am

Before immigrants get deported, they are sometimes held temporarily by local law enforcement at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. But cities across the country, including Philadelphia, are saying they will no longer fully cooperate with that plan.

Offenses including traffic stops and felonies can lead to deportation for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally — or even those who are legal permanent residents. ICE requests that municipalities hold suspects until they can be transferred into federal custody.

Until recently, Philadelphia honored a couple of hundred of these "immigration detainers" a year. But in April, Philadelphia's mayor signed an executive order essentially ending that practice in the city.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, the first Latina to serve on the Philadelphia City Council, pushed hard for the change and celebrated at the public announcement.

"This victory is so huge, not only for the city of Philadelphia, but for the rest of the country," she said, "and for those of you who do immigrant work and know the faces behind the stories, the people who have suffered that we couldn't save before."

Philadelphia joined places like Cook County, Ill., Newark, N.J., and parts of California that had limited or ended their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

William Stock, a vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says this is the one way cities feel they can affect immigration policy.

"I think communities that are standing up to say, 'We are not cooperating with detainers,' are saying, 'And we are for that path to a legal status. We are for full integration of these people who, after all, are here because they want to be Americans,' " Stock says.

ICE declined requests for an interview for this story. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas sent a statement saying that ICE is trying to make sure "that dangerous individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities."

Dan Cadman worked in immigration enforcement for decades and is now a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. Cadman says politics shouldn't keep municipalities from turning over somebody who's stolen something or been charged with a DUI.

"It makes sense in those instances, after their interaction with the state criminal justice system is over, that if they are removable, that ICE do what it is charged with doing and remove them from the United States," he says.

Cadman doesn't believe immigration advocates who say police cooperation with ICE makes immigrants afraid to report crimes. He says municipalities may well have been scared by recent court decisions.

Ernesto Galarza, a U.S.-born Latino, was picked up on drug charges in Lehigh County, Pa., and held for immigration. He sued the county, which claimed it had only followed an ICE order. But ICE said it was only a request. In March, a federal court found the county liable for damages.

Afterwards, other counties in the region stopped honoring detainers. David Owens, the head of corrections in Camden, N.J., says he didn't want to stop working with ICE.

"As a law enforcement officer, of course I have concerns about releasing someone to the street with a gun charge, with a charge of violence. Yes, I've sworn to protect the citizens," he says.

But since the court ruled against the Pennsylvania county that held Galarza, Owens feels he can't keep someone on an immigration detainer after he's finished their criminal proceedings.

And while, for now, only about 200 jurisdictions have similar policies, more and more are joining that group every month.

Copyright 2014 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Let's say one of these children does go through the lengthy immigration court system and is ordered to be deported. They might ignore that order, or might not even know they have one until they're picked up by police for another infraction. When that happens, local police are asked to hold the suspect until federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, show up to process them for deportation. But now, officials in some cities are saying they won't fully cooperate with that plan. From member station WHYY, Emma Jacobs reports.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: When it's 90 degrees outside, it can be 110 inside the Colombian bakery in North Philadelphia where Tamara Jimenez works. All summer, there's the hum of the refrigerated cases. When her friend Ivan stopped in at the bakery about two years ago, she never dreamed it was the last time she would ever see him.

TAMARA JIMENEZ: We just had a small talk. And, you know, I wish him goodbye. And the next day, his wife came to the bakery and told us that he got arrested.

JACOBS: Jimenez says a police traffic stop got her friend detained for a couple of days, then transferred to Immigration custody and eventually deported back to Colombia.

JIMENEZ: And I think if - I have never thought it was going to happen to him or someone close that I knew.

JACOBS: Until recently, Philadelphia honored a couple of hundred immigration detainers a year. These are requests from ICE to hold on to suspects until the federal agency can take custody. They're placed both on immigrants in the country illegally and legal, permanent residents who have committed deportable offenses. But in April, Philadelphia's mayor signed an executive order essentially ending that practice here. Maria Quinones-Sanchez is the city's only Latino councilwoman. She pushed hard for the change and celebrated at the public announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QUINONES-SANCHEZ: This victory is so huge, not only for the city of Philadelphia but for the rest of the country. And for those of you who do immigrant work and know the faces behind the stories, the people who have suffered that we couldn't save before.

JACOBS: Philadelphia joined places like Cook County, Illinois, Newark, New Jersey and parts of California that had limited or ended their cooperation with federal or immigration enforcement. William Stock is a vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He says this is the one way cities feel they can affect immigration policy.

WILLIAM STOCK: I think communities that are standing up to say we are not cooperating with detainers are saying and we are for that path to a legal status. We are for full integration of these people, who, after all, are here because they want to be Americans.

JACOBS: ICE declined request for an interview for this story. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas sent a statement saying that ICE is trying to make sure that, quote, "dangerous individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities." Dan Cadman worked in immigration enforcement for decades and is now a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. Cadman says politics shouldn't keep municipalities from turning over someone who's stolen something or gotten a DUI.

DAN CADMAN: It makes sense after their interaction with the state criminal justice system is over - that if they are removable, that ICE do what it is charged with doing and remove them from the United States.

JACOBS: He doesn't believe immigration advocates who say police cooperation with ICE makes immigrants afraid to report crimes. He says municipalities may well have been scared by recent court decisions. Ernesto Galarza, a U.S.-born Latino man, was picked up on drug charges in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and held for immigration. He sued the county, which claimed it had only followed an ICE order. But ICE said it was only a request. In March, a federal court found the county liable for damages. Other counties in the region stopped honoring detainers. David Owens, the head of corrections in Camden, New Jersey, says he didn't want to stop working with ICE.

DAVID OWENS: As a law enforcement officer, of course I have concerns about releasing someone to the street with a gun charge, with a charge of violence. Yes. I've sworn to protect the citizens.

JACOBS: But since the court ruled against the Pennsylvania County that held Ernesto Galarza, Owens feels he can't keep someone on an immigration detainer after he's finished their criminal proceedings. And while for now, only about 200 jurisdictions have similar policies, more and more are joining that group every month. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.