In the consolidated class action cases of Roy v. County of Los Angeles and Gonzalez v. ICE, a Los Angeles federal judge ruled that federal immigration authorities and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department violated the Constitution by detaining certain immigrants based on immigration detainers beyond the time of any criminal detention.
Background Regarding ICE Detainers
Beginning in September 2006, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) adopted technology which allowed local law enforcement agencies to automatically send ICE fingerprints of any person booked into a local jail in real time, by scanning them into the live scan system. ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center could then conduct background checks relating to the person’s immigration and criminal history.
Based on these checks, ICE issues immigration detainers to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to request that they detain the individual for up to 48 hours beyond the time he or she would otherwise be released from custody on criminal charges, in order for ICE to assume custody of the individual.
Roy and Gonzalez Lawsuits
The Plaintiffs in the Roy case allege that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department policy of denying bail to inmates who are subject to an immigration hold is unlawful. They also claim that it is unlawful to detain someone solely on the basis of an immigration hold.
The Plaintiffs in the Gonzalez case brought a similar lawsuit, claiming that immigration holds violate the Fourth Amendment because they are based on databases with incomplete and inaccurate information.
District Court Ruling
The District Court ruled that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department practice of holding inmates beyond their release dates on the basis of immigration detainers (which occurred between 2010 and 2014) was unconstitutional.
The Court held that civil immigrations violations, by themselves, do not constitute crimes. Therefore, knowing or suspecting someone has an immigration violation is not enough to give an officer probable cause to hold an individual in custody. Moreover, the Court held that “allowing local law enforcement officers to arrest individuals for civil immigration violations would infringe on the substantial discretion Congress entrusted to the Attorney General in making removability decisions, which often require the weighing of complex, diplomatic, political, and economic considerations.”
Further, the Court noted that the Sheriff’s Department had a policy of not booking anyone into its jails if the person’s bail was set at $25,000 or less, unless the person refused to sign the citation or was charged with certain crimes such as escape from custody, child abuse, or domestic violence. However, this “non-booking” policy did not apply to people with immigration detainers. The Court found that this practice was unconstitutional because it violated equal protection laws in treating immigrants dissimilarly.
The Court concluded that there was a dispute of fact about whether the databases which the federal government used had complete and accurate information. Therefore, the Court denied the cross-motions for summary judgment, and the accuracy of the databases will be one of the issues for trial.
In 2014, California passed the Trust Act, which limited circumstances in which law enforcement agencies could honor ICE immigration detainers, such as allowing detention only for those with a history of certain criminal offenses. Most law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, initiated steps to comply with this law, and the Department no longer honors immigration detainers except in these limited circumstances.
While the ruling in Roy and Gonzalez may now seem irrelevant to many law enforcement agencies, who have also changed their policies to comply with the Trust Act, it is a reminder of the complexities about immigration issues and the relationships between the federal governments and local law enforcement agencies. Moreover, it demonstrates that local law enforcement agencies cannot simply claim that they were just following federal mandates and expect immunity.
With potential new immigration policies coming from Washington, local law enforcement agencies should not hesitate to contact legal counsel to determine if changes in policy may subject the agency to liability and/or if a revision of the agency’s policies and procedures are needed in order to comply.