Richmond, VA – Today, the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office became the first county in Virginia to make public that it has stopped honoring ICE detainer requests not accompanied by a warrant. The move comes in response to a July 1, 2014 letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia. In the letter, the ACLU of VA advised sheriffs and other correctional officials that detaining someone on an ICE detainer request is voluntary and may violate the detainee’s Fourth Amendment and due process rights, leaving localities vulnerable to costly lawsuits.
“This summer, we asked the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office, as well as sheriffs and corrections officials across the Commonwealth, to deny all warrantless ICE detainer requests,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “As our letter stated, there are serious constitutional concerns raised when individuals are detained under warrantless ICE detainer requests. Localities in Virginia that continue to honor these requests are putting individual’s constitutional rights in jeopardy and communities at risk of costly lawsuits to vindicate those rights.”
In an interview with the Chesterfield Observer, the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office stated, “At the advice of the county attorney, we can’t hold someone solely on an ICE detainer. If we have someone with an ICE detainer, we’ll call [ICE] and let them know that they’re going to be released on a certain date. We will put it into the [records] system that there is an ICE detainer on that person. But if their time is done and they’re due to be released, we won’t hold that person just based on the detainer.”
Recent federal court decisions have made clear that detaining individuals on warrantless ICE detainer requests is a violation of the detainee’s Fourth Amendment and due process rights. Attorneys General from Illinois, Maryland, and California have already issued opinions closely mirroring the courts’ findings.
“We applaud the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office for their decisive action and for recognizing the critical importance of fostering trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement,” said Joseph Montano, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator at the ACLU of Virginia, “It’s time for the rest of the Commonwealth to follow Chesterfield County’s example and end a practice that tramples the rights of immigrants and establishes the principle that a person can be deprived of liberty without due process,” Montano concluded.
Virginia law requires a check of the immigration status of every person arrested and taken into custody, regardless of whether charges ultimately are dropped or the person is found not guilty of the offense for which he or she was arrested. Under the federal Secure Communities program, these status checks of all federal databases are done based on fingerprints. When ICE gets a “hit” on one of these checks, it automatically issues a detainer request asking the state or local authority to hold the flagged person for 48 hours after they are otherwise due to be released (for example, when the charges are dropped, the person is found not guilty, or they have served their sentence after conviction on a state or local charge). When the detainer is issued, it is usually the case that ICE has just started investigating a person’s immigration status. It does not mean that the person being investigated is here without authority and is subject to deportation or that there is probable cause to think they are. It does not mean that they’ve committed a criminal violation of immigration laws or a civil violation like overstaying a student visa.
A copy of the ACLU of Virginia letter to sheriffs and regional jail officials can be found here.