Immigration Detainer Requests & Exposure to Civil Liabilities

Can cities and counties face civil liabilities when they hold court-released individuals under federal immigration detainer requests?

Last month Massachusetts requested a hearing of its top court about detaining individuals under federal immigration detainer requests after their court-ordered releases, according to Reuters.

It's a fair question, because holding someone in custody after a court-ordered release could cost a city or a county millions in legal fees. Just ask Maricopa County, Ariz.

The Bay State argued that keeping an immigrant in custody after his or her case is resolved does not have sufficient legal justification.

"Probable cause for civil removability is simply not a basis for arrest under Massachusetts law," said Jessica Barnett, an assistant state attorney general. State law does not specifically give law enforcement agencies authority to arrest people facing civil deportation proceedings. Holding someone after a court-ordered release is akin to a fresh arrest, Barnett argued.

The U.S. Justice Department responded that basic practices of cooperation are enough for following federal immigration detainer requests.

But others don't agree government bodies having "inherent authority to police their sovereignty," as the Federal government put it, is enough protection from exposure to civil liabilities.

According to a report on the USA Today Network, Adam Fetterman, general counsel for the St. Lucie County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, said county officials give Immigration and Customs Enforcement as much information as possible under immigration detainer requests. But federal agents don’t work after hours, on weekends or on federal holidays, he explained.

They want to pick people up when it’s convenient for them,” Fetterman said. “Unfortunately, convenient for them means significant civil liability exposure for violation of civil rights borne on the back of the taxpayers of St. Lucie County.”

Gov1 has requested the White House Skype Seat so it can ask the administration how cities and counties should prepare for possible civil liabilities pertaining to immigration detainer requests, but we've had no response on our April 12th and April 21st requests.

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