Feds halt reports on local jurisdictions not aiding ICE

April 12, 2017 GMT

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has stopped issuing a weekly report scrutinizing local jurisdictions that have declined to help federal agents identify undocumented immigrants held in county jails after a few cities and counties decried the reports as flawed.

The temporary halt to what advocates have called a name-and-shame list also comes amid a national debate over whether local law enforcement agencies have a legal obligation to enforce federal immigration laws, and as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeated a threat by President Donald Trump to withhold Justice Department funds from cities and counties that refuse to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Santa Fe, which was put in the national spotlight after Mayor Javier Gonzales declared the city would stand by its nearly 2-decade-old policy welcoming immigrants, was singled out in the agency’s second and third reports.

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In recent months, however, the Santa Fe Police Department has notified ICE about suspects that city police officers believe are dangerous to the community. The most recent case is Ronald Ayala-Santos, 20, a local restaurant worker with a history of bomb-scare charges. In response to Sessions’ warning last month about funding cuts for communities that won’t cooperate with ICE, Gonzales said Santa Fe is following all federal laws.

The federal agency’s first report on local jurisdictions said no county in New Mexico would honor an ICE detainer except for San Miguel County, where the jail would only honor such a request if it was reimbursed by the federal government. Another report specifically named the Santa Fe County jail, saying it would not honor an ICE detainer request unless a suspect was accused of a serious crime.

The ICE reports also detailed crimes committed by immigrants. The last two reports listed six people in Santa Fe who have been convicted for crimes such as drug possession, drunken driving or assault.

The reports were compiled as part of an executive order Trump signed in late January, saying the federal government would single out cities and counties that refused to honor agents’ requests to hold undocumented immigrants in jails past their release date so federal agents could investigate their residency status. ICE compiled and released three reports under the order, and a spokeswoman said the agency would continue collecting the information.

“ICE remains committed to publishing the most accurate information available regarding declined detainers across the country and continues to analyze and refine its reporting methodologies,” said Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. “While this analysis is ongoing, the publication of the Declined Detainer Outcome Report will be temporarily suspended.”

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Among the jurisdictions that complained about inaccuracies in the ICE reports were New York City, Nassau County, N.Y., Franklin County, Pa., and Maricopa County, Ariz., where a new sheriff ousted immigration hard-liner Joe Arpaio in the November election. Arpaio had honored ICE detainer requests, but his successor, Paul Penzone, said he will not honor them. Instead, Penzone has said, he will allow ICE agents to question jail inmates as they come in.

Officials from the other jurisdictions asked the Trump administration to take their names off the list because they cooperate with ICE.

Stephen H. Legomsky, an immigration lawyer for the Obama administration from 2011-13, said there’s still uncertainty about what cooperation with ICE means under the Trump administration.

For example, he said, it’s against federal law for local law enforcement agencies to withhold from ICE a suspect’s immigration status. However, he added, it’s “perfectly legal” for local agencies not to ask suspects for their immigration status.

“The real question is what are jurisdictions willing to do and what they’re not willing to do,” said Legomsky, a retired immigration professor from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “And I’m not aware of any jurisdiction that’s not following that [federal law].”

It’s also unclear whether it’s legal for jails to continue detaining an immigrant beyond a release date based only the possibility that he or she may be living in the country illegally.

Federal judges in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Oregon have ruled that it is unconstitutional for a county to honor an ICE detainer request without a warrant. And last month, a federal judge in Albuquerque approved a settlement that prohibits the San Juan County jail from holding inmates past their release date on a request from ICE. Under the settlement, jail officials can only hand over inmates to ICE agents if an arrest warrant has been signed by a judge.

While various county jails in New Mexico have adopted a policy of not honoring ICE detainer requests, Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered state-run and private prisons in the state to allow ICE agents to question inmates who may be undocumented.

Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said he expects the weekly ICE reports will return. He said the Trump administration wants to continue to shame jurisdictions that don’t honor the agency’s requests to detain inmates.

“I think there will be some jurisdictions that will follow recent court rulings,” he said. “But most jurisdictions will still cooperate with the detainers because they are afraid of the threat of losing federal funding.”

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.