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Law Enforcement Agencies Bristle at U.S. Report on Immigration Detention

22 Mar


WASHINGTON — One of President Trump’s first executive orders promised a weekly recounting of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and a list of the recalcitrant local law enforcement departments that failed to turn those people over to federal officials.

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday delivered the first report. But rather than provide a complete tally, it contained misleading information that only prompted confusion and defiance from law enforcement officials from the jurisdictions in question.

The report, which covers Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deportations, issued 3,083 detainers, which are requests to local police departments to hold undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents who could be deported.

The report showed, however, that only 206 of those detainers were declined by local law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, ICE officials say the lack of cooperation endangers Americans.

“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” said Thomas Homan, the agency’s acting director.

But one of the nation’s larger counties — Nassau County, on Long Island — was erroneously included in the government’s report as a noncooperative jurisdiction.

“We have tried to be cooperative and it’s unfair and misleading to suggest that we’re not – especially in these times,” said Capt. Michael Golio, a spokesman for the Nassau County sheriff’s office.

Captain Golio said that after the release of the report, ICE contacted him and assured him it would remove Nassau from the next report. Officials at ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the apparent correction.

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first to agree to accept administrative warrants from the agency, said Mr. Golio, who negotiated this change. At the time, Nassau County was criticized by immigration advocates for being too aggressive: It broke from the policies many departments enacted in 2014 after federal lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Oregon declared that accepting detainers without judicial warrants was unconstitutional and that counties could be held liable.

The Nassau County sheriff’s office won a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in December 2015 that proved an administrative warrant — more complete than a basic ICE detainer — satisfied probable cause for a person to be detained.

To facilitate ICE’s work in the county, the Nassau sheriff’s office has allowed the agency to have a permanent presence in the county jails, giving agents immediate access to interview inmates. This is different than New York City’s policy, which changed in 2014 to abolish the ICE presence at Rikers Island.

On Thursday, New York’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, said the report not only misrepresented New York’s law, but facts about cities’ and counties’ policies.

“This ignores the fact that federal courts have repeatedly held that immigration detainers are optional requests and cannot be made mandatory under the Constitution,” Ms. Agarwal said.

Indeed, even ICE recognized this in a “Frequently Asked Questions” section included in the report’s release.

The report said New York amended its law in March 2013 not to honor a detainer. But the New York City Council enacted its local law in October 2014, and said it superseded any previous agreement. That law, which was approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio in November 2014, did allow for some cooperation with ICE if the detention order is accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person in custody has been convicted of one of 170 serious felonies — such as arson, robbery or homicide — within the last five years.

Ms. Agarwal said that public safety depends on the trust between police and community, and to that end, the city’s police officials “voluntarily respond to requests from federal immigration authorities when they’re looking for an individual in our custody who is a serious threat to the safety of all New Yorkers, immigrant or otherwise.”

One jurisdiction, however, did not deny its so-called sanctuary city policy that shields immigrants from detainers.

Travis County, Tex., which includes the city of Austin, declined the most detainers, 142, out of the 206 rejections nationwide listed in the ICE report.

Officials in Travis County said the high number of declined requests was the result of a change in policy by Sally Hernandez, a Democrat who became sheriff in January. She announced that unless individuals in the Travis County jail had been charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling, they would be allowed to post bond and released despite requests from ICE.

The Travis County policy has been criticized by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has threatened to cut off Texas’ criminal justice grant funding for the county.

After the release of Monday’s report, Mr. Abbott said the findings highlighted the need to get rid of sanctuary cities in the state.

“The Travis County Sheriff’s decision to deny ICE detainer requests and release back into our communities criminals charged with heinous crimes – including sexual offenses against children, domestic violence and kidnapping – is dangerous and should be criminal in itself,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement.

Since Mr. Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin compiling a list of local law enforcement agencies that did not honor detainers, some localities have said publishing the data is simply a way to embarrass them into complying with ICE requests.

“This is a shaming list, a scarlet letter that the federal government is going to put on jurisdictions around the country,” said Dennis Herrera, San Francisco’s city attorney.