It is not controversial to say that immigration enforcement is one of the top law enforcement priorities of the Trump administration. When the Justice Department recently threatened to cut off federal funding from so-called “Sanctuary Cities,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused sanctuary jurisdictions of risking public safety and national security. The idea put forth by the government is that local jurisdictions risk public safety and frustrate the federal government’s immigration enforcement efforts when they do not honor detainers issued by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold an individual who has in the custody of local law enforcement. On the other hand, local governments and others argue that sanctuary policies do just the opposite and promote public safety by fostering trust and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
One of many issues with the government’s position is that ICE detainers themselves are not warrants, and unless they are accompanied by an actual warrant, courts consider them to be merely voluntary requests. In 2014, the Third Circuit held in Galarza v. Szalczyk that ICE detainers were voluntary requests, and that when local governments comply with a detainer request they open themselves up to liability for due process and other constitutional violations that occur. The plaintiff in that case, Ernesto Galarza, was a United States citizen wrongfully held pursuant to an ICE detainer. Mr. Galarza’s case was not the first or last time ICE sought to detain a citizen.
Of course, aggressive enforcement of immigration laws is not limited to federal-local battles over sanctuary policies. When the President’s first Travel Ban was issued, many were detained in airports without any process whatsoever, including green-card holders. There have been many reports of aggressive ICE raids over the last few weeks. Earlier this week in Chicago, ICE agents stormed a home occupied for 30 years by a family of citizens and legal permanent residents, shooting and wounding the father.
Civil rights violations are, unfortunately, inextricably linked with the hawkish enforcement of immigration law that the Trump administration has promised and already demonstrated. Fortunately, whether the entity responsible for a civil rights violation is a local government, acting alone or in concert with ICE, or the federal government itself, victims are not without a remedy.