Comments from Prince George’s Dept of Corrections, ACLU
TAKOMA PARK, Maryland.—Following the announcement that Prince George’s County will no longer respond to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) hold requests unless they are accompanied by a warrant issued by a judge, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland is following up with other county detention centers to find out how they will respond to a Maryland Attorney General letter of advice concluding that, by itself, an immigration detainer does not authorize continued detention of a person past their state or local release date.
In June 2014, the ACLU wrote to every county detention center in the state, which prompted a request for advice from the Attorney General from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. In response to that advice, Governor Martin O’Malley announced that the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center will no longer hold individuals for ICE without probable cause, and several other counties are currently reviewing their policies. Prince George’s County has now taken the lead in enacting a policy effective October 1, 2014 requiring that the detainer requests be accompanied by a judicial warrant.
“We have changed our policy to reflect the recent advice by the Maryland Attorney General that individuals should not be deprived of their liberty based on an administrative detainer,” said Mary Lou McDonough, Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections. “We will only hold individuals who have a warrant which is issued after probable cause is shown.”
Recent federal court decisions have found that detention on the sole basis of an immigration detainer request violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Three federal courts have found that such detention raises constitutional concerns and that counties are liable in damages to the individuals they detain on that basis.
“Requiring that immigration detainer requests be accompanied by a warrant issued by a judge is the only constitutional policy,” said Sirine Shebaya, attorney directing the ACLU of Maryland’s immigrants’ rights advocacy. “We applaud Prince George’s County for taking the lead in doing the right thing, and we call on other counties to do the same.”
More than 250 counties across the country have recently revised their policies on holding immigrants for ICE based on Fourth Amendment concerns. Immigration detainers are not judicial warrants; they are unsworn paper documents issued by administrative employees without a finding of probable cause. Until recently, all Maryland counties detained immigrants with no greater offense than a traffic violation – effectively transforming their local law enforcement officials into proxy immigration agents.
In 2013, the ACLU of Maryland released a report, Restoring Trust: How Immigration Detainers in Maryland Undermine Public Safety Through Unnecessary Enforcement, that describes how immigrants in Maryland are detained after they are eligible for release, in state and local facilities and at state and local expense, for the sole purpose of transferring them to federal immigration authorities even when they are picked up solely on traffic violations and even when they are not even charged with a civil immigration violation.