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.”