Special Edition: Immigration Detainers

Director's Corner

Special Edition: Immigration Detainers

This week we continue our Director's Corner series on DHS programs that operate at the state and local level by focusing on immigration detainers. Like Secure Communities (the focus of last week's edition) immigration detainers impact immigration practitioners and their clients because they often result in detention and initiation of removal proceedings. If you have clients or case examples affected by state and local initiatives (like Secure Communities or detainers) please see the Take Action below to contact AILA.

What are Immigration Detainers?

An immigration detainer is a tool used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to identify potentially removable individuals who are in criminal custody nationwide.

The detainer is a non-binding request from ICE to another law enforcement agency (LEA) - such as a state or local jail - for notification that an individual is scheduled to be released from local custody and is intended to provide ICE a window within which to make timely arrangements to assume custody of that individual. In effect, the detainers authorizes the LEA to continue holding the individual for an additional 48 hours after their release from criminal custody - that is, after the individual has posted bond, completed a criminal sentence, or had the case against them dismissed.

At the end of the 48-hour period, the detainer expires. If ICE has not taken custody of the individual the LEA is required to release them.

How Does ICE Identify Individuals That May be Subject to a Detainer?

In recent years, the use of detainers has expanded greatly as they have become the linchpin of programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities, and the Criminal Alien Program which increasingly intertwine the state criminal justice systems with federal immigration enforcement.

Depending on the degree of cooperation between local jails and ICE, a detainer is issued in a number of ways. In jails where ICE agents are present, ICE agents may use booking information or other information provided by local officials to make decisions about whom to interview and whether to issue a detainer. If the jail has a 287(g) agreement with ICE, deputized local law enforcement officers work with ICE to interview arrestees and issue detainers. In the case of Secure Communities, an individual's fingerprints are run at booking through both the FBI and immigration databases. A detainer is issued if ICE believes the individual is removable from the U.S.

In cases where the jail has no formal partnership with ICE, a detainer can still issued if local officials contact ICE with information about persons they believe to be foreign-born - often based on booking information or simply because they look or sound "foreign."

What's wrong with Immigration Detainers?

Detainers Are Widely Misunderstood by LEAs
Misunderstandings about the nature of detainers are rampant among LEAs, particularly concerning the 48-hour limit for lawfully holding someone on a detainer. Frequently LEA officers hold individuals far beyond the 48-hour time limit. Yet detainees have little recourse when they are detained unlawfully; they languish in detention until ICE comes to pick them up, weeks or months after the detainer expired. Furthermore, LEAs often misunderstand, or are misinformed by ICE about, the meaning of a detainer, regarding it as a requirement to maintain custody, rather than a request.

Prolonged Detention for Immigrants
A detainer often affects a person’s ability to be released on bail pending criminal charges. Generally, criminal defendants with less serious charges are allowed to return to their communities before trial if they post bail. However, when ICE issues a detainer, some courts consider the detainer an adverse factor when determining a bail amount or whether to set bail at all. Other times, a judge may set bail, but the sheriff's office will refuse to accept bail from anyone with an ICE detainer. As a result, immigrants with minor, non-violent offenses, who otherwise would have been released from custody, spend months in jail waiting for the criminal charges against them to be resolved.

Detainer Policy Isn't in Sync with ICE Enforcement Priorities
In June, ICE issued a memo on its enforcement priorities, focusing on immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes. In contradiction to its own stated policies, ICE continues to issue detainers pre-trial and without regard to the seriousness of the criminal offense for which the alleged non-citizen, and sometimes U.S. citizen, was arrested.

ICE Request for Comment on Detainer Policy

On August 1, 2010, ICE issued draft guidance policy which aimed to provide additional guidance on detainer issuance but which unfortunately did not address many of AILA's larger concerns with detainers policy. AILA and other organizations issued comments identify several major problems with the proposed guidance.

For more information, read the draft guidance policy and AILA comments.

Stay tuned. Same Pulse Time. Same Pulse Channel.

Loren Crippin
Advocacy Associate
Special Contributor to the Director's Corner

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