Hennepin Co. Jail will no longer hold detainees for immigration officials

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The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office will no longer honor detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

What is an ICE Detainer?

An immigration detainer gives federal immigration officials a 48-hour window to take custody of a "criminal alien" that's currently being held by a different law enforcement agency (such as the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office), with the intent to deport him or her from the United States.

A detainer is technically issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and notifies a law enforcement agency (on the federal, state or local level) that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intends to take custody of an individual currently detained by the other law enforcement agency. ICE must take control of the individual within 48 hours – if ICE does not do so, the individual must be let go by the law enforcement agency.

If the individual is held beyond 48 hours, ICE says he or she should contact the law enforcement agency holding them regarding their release. If a detainer is placed on a U.S. citizen or the victim of a crime, the law enforcement agency is directed to notify ICE.

The ICE requests for a local law enforcement agency to hold a detainee for deportation purposes (detailed at right) were historically interpreted as mandatory; something the local law enforcement agencies had to abide by, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said at a news conference Wednesday. But recent directives from ICE and later decisions by the federal court system are challenging that notion, Stanek said.

Of the county's 36,000 inmates Hennepin County Jail receives each year, about 540 – 1.5 percent – have a detainer placed on them by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the sheriff's office says.

In May, the ACLU's Minnesota chapter sent a letter to each of the state's county sheriffs, asking them to stop complying with detainer requests, noting that the request is not a warrant and not approved by a judge.

The first time a federal appeals court addressed the ICE detainers directly came in March, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that states and localities are not required to comply with the detainer requests, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said at the time of the ruling.

The court's 28-page ruling stems from the three-day detention of Ernesto Galarza in Pennsylvania's Lehigh County Prison. Galarza, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2008 for a drug offense and posted bail – but instead of being released, was held in custody because of a detainer request. Three days later, immigration officials learned he was a U.S. citizen, and he was released. But he filed a lawsuit against Lehigh County. The District Court dismissed it, saying the county had to comply with the detainer request. But appeals court agreed with Galarza, ruling detainers "do not and cannot compel" a law enforcement agency to hold a suspect.

A U.S. magistrate judge in in Oregon came to the same conclusion just weeks later, the Bellingham Herald reported.

Since the rulings, a number of counties announced they would not abode by the detainers, including, at least nine counties in Oregon, more than a dozen in Southern California, a handful in Kansas, and more in Colorado.

Hennepin County – which houses Minnesota's largest jail – joined that list Wednesday, after what Stanek called a "long, thoughtful, and deliberate process" that included discussion with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, county residents, local elected officials, and ACLU representatives, he said.

Hennepin is the first county in the state to announce such a move. Stanek said the practice takes effect Thursday at midnight.

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