The announcement by Iowa officials in 22 different counties that they will refuse to incarcerate individuals held under the authority of immigration detainers makes it more difficult for the federal government to detain immigrants lacking documentation while they await their deportation hearings. For some time Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have been asking local jails to hold individuals suspected of not having proper immigration documentation. But facing their own problems with jail overcrowding and concerns about holding detainees without charges, court officials now are demanding that courts approve warrants for these immigrants before they detain them.
Part of the new posture stems from the high cost of holding all of these additional inmates. One example can be seen in a state far from Iowa. In Killeen, Texas during 2013, ICE detainers cost Bell County an estimated $415,166. Over a longer period of time, Bell County Jail held 1,200 inmates under ICE detainers for 21,136 days between October 2011 and May 2014, spending $1.2 million. The daily cost to house an inmate in the jail approximates $67.35 per day.
But states as diverse as Illinois and Oregon have previously enacted policies similar to the one now announced in Iowa. In Clackamas County in Oregon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart upheld a lower court ruling April 11 that immigration holds — or “ICE detainers” — are requests not commands and “do not, without more, provide the necessary legal basis … for the jail to hold the named person in custody.” In Colorado, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters predicated his decision to stop detaining inmates for ICE on a case from Lehigh County, Pa. where a federal appeals court ruled that Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen suspected of being an illegal immigrant, was wrongfully held for three days in Lehigh County Prison on an ICE detainer, after having posted bail on a drug arrest. In Cook County in Illinois, the Commission passed an ordinance in September 2011 which states, in part, that “the sheriff of Cook County shall decline all ICE detainer requests unless there is a written agreement with the federal government by which all costs incurred by Cook County in complying with the ICE detainer shall be reimbursed.” Likewise, in California the Legislature passed the Trust Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2014, prohibiting law enforcement officials from detaining someone for ICE after that person is eligible for release on local charges — unless the individual has been charged with or convicted of specific crimes, including violent felonies, or is on the state’s sex offender or arson registries.
Taken together, all of these local and state actions appear to be pushing back against the idea that states and localities must act as the enforcement arm for the ICE’s efforts to apprehend and hold individuals accused of residing in this country illegally.
In the meantime, it is critical, in the event that reform does become law that the immigration attorneys in this country be prepared for the new category of cases any new law is likely to generate. Edward Shulman, Esq, founder of The Shulman Law Group, LLC is a national speaker for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, and to advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice. In the course of Mr. Shulman's involvement with AILA, he has been dedicated to educating other immigration attorneys about the import of helping intending immigrants to navigate a new cultural system. He meticulously follows all of the developments occurring in the battle over immigration reform so that he will be prepared to effectively assist his clients obtain residency if a new system is enacted.