Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is making it clear the county will not honor requests made by federal immigration officials to hold some immigrant inmates past their release date.
The move has upset officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who sometimes will ask county jails to hold inmates past their release date if they’re an immigrant that ICE wants to detain for possible deportation.
But Napoleon strongly defended his county policy, saying it gels with the law, court rulings, and with what other sheriffs of big counties in the U.S. are doing. Napoleon, who leads the biggest jail in Michigan, said he cooperates with ICE, but will only hold an inmate past his or her release date if the county gets a warrant from an independent judge or magistrate — not ICE itself.
“We’re not going to hold you just because ICE wants to hold you for a couple of days, we can’t do that,” Napoleon told the Free Press. “That’s illegal.”
“Every day, I send ICE a notification of all the people who are newly brought into the Wayne County Jail,” Napoleon added. “If they want any of these people, they have ample time to get a (judicial) warrant and have time to commit them to a jail or wherever they want.”
Napoleon said that at a sheriff’s convention he attended last month in Reno, Nevada, for counties with more than 500,000 people, his view on detainer requests was shared by the other sheriffs.
The detainer issue was “a hot topic of discussion” at the convention, Napoleon said. “All of the sheriffs who talked about it had the same concerns: we can’t hold people without a probable cause warrant issued by the courts. We just can’t do it.”
Agreeing to ICE detainer requests could expose the county to liability, said immigrant advocates.
The ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrants Rights Centers applaud Napoleon’s move, which was outlined in a April 28 memo he sent to his staff.
ICE opposes the policy.
“The agency is deeply concerned about any policy that would limit cooperation with ICE detainers, which could ultimately result in a dangerous criminal alien being released into the community,” Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio branches of ICE, said in a statement.
For years, immigrant advocacy groups have asked county jails not to grant ICE detainer requests. In 2011, the ACLU Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center sent a letter to all jails in Michigan asking them not to hold inmates when requested by ICE.
“An immigration detainer is a request, not an order or arrest warrant,” the letter said. “Therefore the federal government cannot compel a local law enforcement agency to comply, and local law enforcement can decide whether to use local resources to pay for ICE detainers.”
With the Trump administration toughening immigration enforcement, immigrant advocates held a meeting earlier this year with Napoleon, expressing their concern about ICE detainer requests.
The April 28 memo from Napoleon said: “Recent court decision have raised Constitutional concerns regarding the enforcement of Immigration Detainer — Notice of Action (IDNA). As such, effective immediately members of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office shall not honor any IDNAs from … (ICE) unless ONE of the following conditions is met: Written Judicial Determination of Probable Cause (PCD) for that detainer; or a warrant from a Judicial Officer.”
The memo added that “a subject may be detained for ICE only when accompanied by a warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. An administrative warrant issued by an ICE official may not be used to detain a subject.”
Ruby Robinson, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center, said the memo sends a signal that Wayne County is open to immigrants and can come forward to report crimes to law enforcement.
“We are in support of this policy,” Robinson said. “It helps immigrants and communities of immigrants feel safer. If they are victims of crimes, they feel more comfortable going forward.”
Rana Elmir, deputy director of ACLU Michigan, said that “detainers undermine public safety and community trust in the police. … Good police work depends on close relationship with the community … these relationships are severely damaged if local police become part of a deportation machine.”
The Wayne County Jail has a daily population between 1,700 to 2,200, with an additional 700 on tether, Napoleon said. He said that their focus is not on enforcing immigration laws.
“We’re not part of Customs and Immigration,” Napoleon said. “We’re a police agency.”
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