Federal Judge Finds ICE and LA County Sheriff Collaborate to Unlawfully Detain Immigrants

By Attorney Nancy E. Miller and Michael Bhotiwihok

While the national attention on immigration focuses on the United States Congress coming up with a solution for the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and debating multiple immigration issues along with border security, the Trump Administration continues to transform the United States’ immigration enforcement practices.

Neighborhoods throughout the United States are experiencing the cruel, harsh, and devastating consequences of the Trump Administration’s Executive Orders on immigration and its enforcement priorities.  After a year in the White House, the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement polices clearly violated rights of United States citizens and non-citizens, created fear in communities, and cultivated bigotry.

On February 7, 2018, an important ruling from a United States District Court Judge in California surprisingly flew under the radar. Roy v. County of Los Angeles and Gonzalez v. ICE are a combined class action lawsuit that involved the use of immigration detainers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to hold suspected noncitizens up to 48 hours after release from jail by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LA Sheriff”).

The Federal Judge ruled that the LA Sheriff violated the Fourth Amendment Rights of individuals who were held too long, denied bail or detained despite lack of evidence.  The Fourth Amendment protects individuals, no matter what his or her immigration status is in the United States, by providing rights against illegal search and seizures and arbitrary arrests.  The Federal Judge found that ICE and the LA Sheriff unlawfully detained thousands of suspected immigrants using unconstitutional requests, specifically with immigration detainers.

The Federal Judge reasoned that since the LA Sheriff had no probable cause showing that the individuals were involved in criminal activity, there was no authority to arrest the individual for civil immigration offenses.  In addition, Federal Judge held that ICE cannot issue immigration detainers based only on an individual being born in another country.

This ruling impacts those individuals held between 2010 to 2014 by the largest Sheriff’s Department in the United States.  The case’s ruling applies to individuals across the United States, not only Los Angeles County, who are impacted by immigration detainers.  Because of the Court’s ruling, class members across the country are entitled to injunctive relief and may be eligible for monetary damages.

On January 1, 2018, the landmark passage of SB 54, the California Values Act (“CVA”), made the state of California a sanctuary state by limiting its local law enforcement agencies cooperation with federal agents in enforcing immigration laws and conducting raids.  The CVA upholds California’s values of fairness and procedural due process for all individuals in the state.  Due process simply means fairness and the idea that everyone deserves fair treatment by the United States government whenever any civil liberties are at stake. More specifically, state and local law enforcement agencies are not allowed to enforce immigration detainers issued by ICE.  The CVA neither allows the deputization of police as immigration agents nor state and local law enforcement agencies from inquiring into an individual’s immigration status. The CVA also ensures that schools, hospitals, libraries, and courthouses remain safe and accessible spaces for every individual in California.

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck has written that the Los Angeles Police Department “is neither authorized nor responsible for the enforcement of civil immigration laws or regulations” further cementing Los Angeles as a sanctuary city.  In addition, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti previously stated that “we are absolutely a city that not only does provide sanctuary to immigrants, but we defend them.”

This week ICE detained more than 100 individuals in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in ongoing operations which are targeting 400 people.  ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett blamed “uncooperative jurisdictions” for its use of “additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the public, and aliens at risks and increasing the incidents of collateral arrests.”  ICE’s current enforcement operations are a clear reaction to California and Los Angeles’ firm stance protecting individuals’ constitutional rights.

As the Trump Administration continues its aggressive immigration enforcement policies, those with existing deportation orders, noncitizens who are out of status or who have been arrested for crimes are likely to be detained by local law enforcement agencies and ICE. It is important for noncitizens to know their constitutionally protected rights.  Noncitizen detained by local law enforcement or ICE should, of course, immediately consult with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney to ensure that his or her constitutional rights and freedoms are protected. However, the better practice would be to consult with the immigration lawyer before being detained to determine whether relief is available.