On Tuesday, the Mercury began calling around to local immigrants' rights advocates and law enforcement officials, to gauge their reaction to what could be a landmark federal ruling. A US magistrate judge in Portland last week ruled long-controversial holds requested by US Immigrations Customs and Enforcement aren't mandatory—as sheriffs in the Portland area and around the country have argued—and in fact may violate prisoners' constitutional rights.
We found the ruling had thrilled many civil liberties folks , and that Clackamas County—on which the ruling was centered—had already scrapped the holds. But a lot of others didn't call us back.
In the two days since we laid out why the ruling by US Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart might be a very big deal, it's proven to be just that. Both Multnomah County and Washington County have announced they're done with ICE holds, too. Here's the order Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton issued to his staff yesterday:
It's a momentous change of tune for Staton, who last year limited the types of offenders he'd hold for ICE, but said, nonetheless, that he was bound by law to comply with the requests. Even before Friday's ruling, though, a federal court had said that's not the case. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (located in Philadelphia) made the determination back in March—in what advocates describe as as watershed decision.
"This (ruling) is, of course, in our area," says Lt. Steve Alexander, a sheriff's office spokesman. "It's an ongoing thing. The sheriffs want to be in compliance."
With Staton's order, 50 prisoners had ICE holds removed, Alexander said. That didn't mean they were released, though. Under the policy, the jail held prisoners for 48 hours (not counting weekends or holidays) from the point they'd have been released under normal circumstances. The 50 prisoners with ICE holds still had time to serve, Alexander said.
Various immigrants' advocacy groups have come out in support of the sheriffs' decisions today.
The Center for Intercultural Organizing called on all of Oregon's sherifs to follow the leads of Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, and said the policy shift will improve immigrants' relationship with law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon has also released a statement. Here's part of it:
Detainers raise serious constitutional concerns by depriving individuals of freedom without due process of law and, in most cases, without probable cause of any criminal act. Moreover, state and local corrections officials frequently violate the 48-hour limitation by continuing to hold individuals beyond the period requested. Detainers have resulted in the illegal imprisonment of countless individuals—including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Latinos in particular—without any charges pending, sometimes for days or weeks after they should have otherwise been released from custody.
“Immigration detainers undermine public safety and community trust in police,” said ACLU of Oregon Legislative Director Becky Straus. “They often snare victims and witnesses of crime in their net. When members of the community believe that any encounter with local law enforcement may result in contact with federal immigration enforcement, those individuals are less likely to trust law enforcement enough to report incidents of crime or come forward as witnesses. That makes our communities less safe.”