The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio wants Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott and six other sheriffs in the state to stop holding immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally beyond the length of their normal jail terms.
The ACLU sent letters to the seven sheriffs this week asking them to stop holding potentially deportable inmates for up to 48 hours after local charges have been resolved so that federal immigration agents have time to investigate their immigration status.
A person in Scott’s office acknowledged receiving the letter on Tuesday but said it doesn’t apply because the office detains people only for an “underlying criminal charge” and “not because ICE asked us to.” The office does, however, notify immigration officials if the inmate has been flagged as possibly being in the country illegally, the employee said.
Letters also have gone out to sheriffs in Butler, Cuyahoga, Clark, Montgomery, Mahoning and Warren counties.
ACLU officials wrote that honoring the “detainer” requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could put Ohio counties in danger of violating Fourth Amendment rights, which prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and a warrant. That could expose the sheriffs to lawsuits, said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the Ohio ACLU office.
“We’re talking about a very serious constitutional violation — holding people when they have no legal authority and just because ICE made a request,” he said.
After two civil-rights rulings by federal judges this year, more than 100 counties in several states, including California, Oregon, Kansas and Pennsylvania, enacted policies to reduce or eliminate their cooperation with ICE detainers.
In the past, many law-enforcement agencies considered honoring detainer requests mandatory. ICE has argued that the detainers are critical for the agency to be able to identify, and ultimately remove, illegal immigrants who fall into federal, state or local custody because of criminal activity.
Law-enforcement agencies send fingerprints of anyone arrested in the U.S. to the FBI. The prints of those born outside the U.S. are then forwarded to ICE for an immigration check.
ICE does not pay for the jail beds and administrative costs for immigration detainers. That should be reason enough, immigration advocates say, for county officials to stop abiding by the detainer requests.
Frustrated by the high cost of housing undocumented inmates, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones recently sent a letter to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto requesting repayment of $900,000 for the 3,000 Mexican nationals arrested in his county over the past decade. Jones said the number is a rough estimate based on the jail costs of an average stay of five days for each immigrant.
Jones acknowledged that he doesn’t expect to get any of the money back but said he saw it as an opportunity to call attention to the issue.
Detainer supporters often say that cooperation between local police and federal immigration officers has led to the identification of tens of thousands of convicted murderers, child molesters, violent felons and drug traffickers. But several Ohio immigration lawyers and advocates say the inmates who are held often were picked up on minor charges such as traffic violations and misdemeanors that normally wouldn’t warrant their detention.
They note that anyone with a serious charge, such as murder, probably would stay in jail until trial.
Nationwide, federal immigration agents have issued more than 1 million detainers since 2008, said Greg Munno, a researcher at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In 77 percent of those cases, ICE asked local authorities to hold an immigrant who had no criminal record at all and, for example, was stopped for a traffic offense.
Richard Herman, a Cleveland immigration lawyer who also has offices in Columbus and Detroit, said U.S. Border Patrol agents who operate in northern Ohio were accused last year of racially motivated stops aimed at Latinos.
The allegations came as a study found that Border Patrol agents in Buffalo and upstate New York received cash bonuses of up to $2,500, or an extra week of vacation, for picking up people they suspected of being in the country illegally.
Still, some communities are saying, “No more,” Herman said. In April, Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera decided to stop detaining or arresting anyone based on their immigration status after hearing citizen stories of being stopped because of their skin color, he said.
The ACLU said it decided to write counties that have the highest detainer-request rate from ICE, rather than sending a letter to the sheriffs of all 88 Ohio counties.
The Franklin County jail received 1,901 requests for holds in 2012 and nine non-consecutive months of 2013, the period for which ICE officials released the information. Butler County had 395; Montgomery County, 234.
Immigration advocates in Ohio also have talked to local law-enforcement agencies about concerns that some immigrants have been detained days, even months, longer than the maximum 48-hour hold, which doesn’t include weekends or holidays.
Jessica A. Ramos, a lawyer with Advocates for Legal Equality in Dayton, said her agency once had a client who had been held for more than 28 days. Jail officials immediately released him, she said, after the group explained that the county had no right to hold him that long.
“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding on the issue,” Ramos said.
By Encarnacion Pyle - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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