A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that police departments violate the Constitution if they detain inmates at the request of immigration agents, marking the latest legal setback for the Trump administration’s plans to identify and deport immigrants in the country illegally.
In his order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. found that a now-defunct policy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department violated the constitutional rights of inmates who were kept in custody at the behest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Birotte’s strongly worded order bolstered similar previous court rulings, which found police cannot legally honor such detainer requests from ICE. “The LASD officers have no authority to arrest individuals for civil immigration offenses, and thus, detaining individuals beyond their date for release violated the individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights,” Birotte wrote.
The Sheriff’s Department has not delayed releasing inmates on ICE’s behalf since 2014 and none of California’s 58 sheriffs are willing to fulfill the ICE requests. Police in other parts of the country, however, continue to hold inmates to allow ICE agents time to take them into federal custody for possible deportation. Judges elsewhere could look to this week’s decision for guidance when deciding future cases.
In the 48-page ruling, Birotte found other old ICE and Sheriff’s Department policies had run afoul of the Constitution as well. Though many of the issues raised in the case have been addressed in previous cases or don’t apply to new ICE and Sheriff’s Department policies, Birotte’s order bars either agency from returning to old practices and will add to the growing set of cases impeding Trump’s plans to aggressively ramp up the number of deportations.
As part of the administration’s plans, ICE officials have increased the number of detainer requests the agency issues to local police departments. And Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has tried to ratchet up pressure on local law enforcement agencies across the country that have refused to honor the detainer requests and cooperate with ICE in other ways.
“This is a significant ruling, especially considering the national debate around immigration and the efforts of the Trump administration to strong-arm localities to honor immigration detainers,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, one of several groups involved in the lawsuit. “Here is yet another court saying that any police department that does go along with detainer requests can be held liable.”
Under Birotte’s order, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people who were improperly held in L.A. County jails on ICE detainers between 2010 and 2014 may be entitled to monetary awards, said Pasquarella.
“For years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department … callously denied immigrants constitutional protections that universally apply to all other jail detainees — unjustifiably holding them without cause as prisoners,” said Lindsay Battles, one of the attorneys involved in the case. “This decision holds law enforcement agencies accountable for their anti-immigrant abuse of their authority.”