PBSO to stop holding immigrants for ICE without court order

July 22, 2014. The Palm Beach Post.

WEST PALM BEACH — After facing pressure from local civil rights groups, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday that it will no longer hold inmates simply at the request of federal immigration officials.

The holds allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to consider deporting people picked up for petty crimes. The sheriff’s office pays the costs of incarceration for up to two days on behalf of ICE, but it no longer will take that action unless ordered to do so by a judge, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said in a statement.

At a private meeting June 24, a local consortium of faith-based groups — called PEACE, or People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — pressed Bradshaw to drop the holds. He asked for 30 days to consider their request, the groups told The Palm Beach Post. This month, the American Civil Liberties Union delivered legal arguments to the sheriff explaining why the policy exposed the department to legal liability.

Jill Hanson, an attorney who was one of two PEACE representatives to meet with Bradshaw, called Bradshaw’s decision “a common-sense move.”

When a person is arrested, their fingerprints are checked against several databases, including a federal immigration database overseen by ICE. Then ICE can ask the arresting agency to hold the person for up to 48 hours before he or she can be taken into ICE custody. But the agencies don’t have to do it.

Two federal court rulings over the last few months have prompted nearly 150 police agencies, including those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, to change their policy on honoring these requests.

The sheriff’s office followed suit after it became clear that the requests are not mandatory, the sheriff’s statement said.

“This decision comes after a long, thoughtful, and deliberate process that included meetings with the community activists group PEACE and discussions with various legal counsels and ICE officials,” the statement said.

The federal agency has been taking advantage of a policy ridden with ambiguity to expand its reach, ACLU attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal said. Local law enforcement didn’t realize they could say no, she said.

In his statement, Bradshaw conceded the point. “Historically, the … detainers were viewed as ‘mandatory,’ requiring jails to honor them,” the statement said. “However, recent directives by ICE describe detainers as discretionary and there have been recent federal court decisions articulating the same.”

The ACLU letter had warned the sheriff that unless accompanied by a court order, the hold requests are unconstitutional and could land his agency in legal trouble and leave taxpayers with a huge bill.

It cited two federal cases that were ruled in favor of the detainee.

Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen held at the Lehigh County Prison in Pennsylvania at ICE’s request, won a $145,000 settlement paid by the local jail and others. ICE refused to assume financial responsibility, published reports show.

In an Oregon case involving a non-citizen, a federal court again held the local agency responsible.

Between October 2011 and August 2013, 1,166 people were held by the sheriff’s office at the request of ICE, the ACLU letter said.

Apart from exposing the office to potential lawsuits, the policy also drives a wedge between the agencies and the communities they serve, Hanson said. “Now they can report crimes without the fear of being detained for their immigration status.”

Religious activists push back against immigration crackdown

July 15, 2014. The Sun-Sentinel.

Fender benders and minor traffic stops aren’t supposed to send someone to jail. But that’s the risk faced by immigrants living in Palm Beach County without U.S. citizenship, local religious activists say.

A coalition of nearly 30 religious congregations maintains that too often identification problems and citizenship questions result in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office taking someone to jail who otherwise just would have faced a ticket or a requirement to appear in court.

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, or PEACE, maintains that jailing immigrants after minor traffic offenses because of citizenship questions is unfair, adds costs for taxpayers and breeds fear among immigrant communities, making people in those communities less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.

PEACE is calling for Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to make changes so that fewer interactions between immigrants and sheriff’s deputies lead to deportations that separate families.

“It is part of an effort to break down that barrier of fear of the sheriff,” said Jill Hanson of PEACE.

Religious group wants Columbus to accept Mexican ID cards

March 28, 2014. The Columbus Dispatch.

An interdenominational group in Columbus wants law enforcement and city agencies to accept identification cards for Mexican nationals that are issued by their consulate.

BREAD — short for Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity — has been pushing local leaders to recognize the cards, called matricula consulares, as valid ID since last year.

More than 50 religious congregations make up the group, and more than 100 people attended a public meeting on the topic yesterday at Christ the King Catholic Church on the East Side.

Recognizing IDs for immigrants, many of whom now live in the shadows, would go a long way toward making Columbus a more-welcoming city, several religious leaders said.

Becoming a welcoming city “is not something we have to get cops to agree to. It’s the future,” said the Rev. Richard A. Burnett of Trinity Episcopal Church Downtown.

Without identification, undocumented immigrants can’t access the few public services available to them, said Raquel Diaz-Sprague, a BREAD board member representing Immaculate Conception Church in Clintonville.

It also perpetuates the fear many immigrants have of going to police, even when they are the victim of a crime, she said. “Everybody should feel safe to report a crime in the city of Columbus and not be afraid to do so because they don’t have identification.”

The cards are available to Mexican citizens living abroad regardless of their immigrant status, said representatives of the Mexican Consulate office in Indiana at the meeting.

“Having a matricula consular doesn’t mean a person is undocumented,” said Breanna Rodriguez of the consulate’s protection department.

BREAD also wants local officials to enhance police training related to racial profiling and to establish an independent hot line for residents to report suspected police misconduct.

It’s also asking central Ohio law-enforcement agencies to stop helping federal officials deport undocumented immigrants who aren’t convicted criminals, violent offenders or a threat to national security.

A number of cities across the country, including Chicago and Dayton, recognize the consular cards as official ID, said Jessica Ramos, a lawyer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Dayton who lives in Dublin.

People can use them to enroll children in school, open a bank account, sign up for utilities or as proof of their identify if questioned by police, she said.

Since Dayton officials started accepting the cards in 2005, the number of deportations has dropped dramatically, Ramos said. It helped that the Dayton police chief decided in 2008 that city resources shouldn’t be spent on enforcing federal immigration laws, she said.

Columbus doesn’t accept the cards because of security concerns, said Napoleon Bell, executive director of the city’s Community Relations Commission. “I think a better alternative is comprehensive immigration reform.”

Critics say the cards, which cost $29 and are issued for five years, are too easily obtained, too easily forged and impossible to independently verify. They also question whether undocumented immigrants should even have access to public services.

But Mexican consulate officials said yesterday that the cards have safeguards, including a hologram, magnetic strip and hidden images that are verifiable with a decoder. All the names are entered into a centralized database so that multiple cards aren’t issued. And a photograph, fingerprint and signature are kept for everyone who applies for a card or other documents.

Although fake matricula consulares have surfaced in Dayton, they’re easy to identify, said Maj. Brian Johns of the Dayton Police Department.

“It isn’t any worse of a problem than the fake ID cards we see from underage drinkers who attend the University of Dayton,” Johns said. “As far as I’m concerned, the benefits far outweigh any concerns.”