DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Officials at 22 Iowa county jails have stopped accepting requests from federal immigration authorities to hold people in jail without a court order, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said Monday.
It has been common practice for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to ask county sheriffs to hold individuals brought in for traffic violations or other state or local infractions if the individual is suspected of not having proper immigration documents.
Many local authorities have complied with the ICE detention requests even though no charges were filed against the individuals and no court order was signed by a judge.
"They have resulted in the illegal imprisonment of countless individuals -- including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Latinos in particular -- often without any charges pending, sometimes for days or weeks after they should have been released from custody," said Erica Johnson, the ACLU of Iowa's immigrants' rights and racial justice advocate.
Research from Syracuse University indicates that nearly 3,000 people were held on ICE detainers in Iowa in during 2012 and 2013 and that 63 percent of those individuals had no criminal history. Most were held in 74 county jails while a few others were held by cities or at state prison facilities. Polk County led the state with 488 immigration detainees and Linn County had 206 individuals held.
The ACLU of Iowa recently sent letters to sheriffs in Iowa's 99 counties telling them that they are not required to honor ICE retainers without a warrant and they could be held liable if sued for violating the U.S. Constitution.
The 3rd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in March that ICE cannot force local authorities to hold people without a warrant. A federal judge in Portland, Oregon, in an April ruling citing the circuit court's decision said Clackamas County, which held a woman for ICE can be sued for violating her constitutional rights because it could have declined to keep her in jail.
As a result of such court rulings county officials around the country are increasingly declining to hold people on ICE detainers without a judge's order.
The ACLU of Iowa said Monday 22 sheriffs have now informed the organization they will not honor ICE detainer requests without a judge's order. Among them are Iowa's largest counties including Johnson, Linn, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sioux and Story.
Iowa State Sheriffs' & Deputies Association President Don DeKock, a deputy sheriff in Mahaska County said the issue is one of concern for sheriffs and jail administrators.
"In our jail our policy would not allow ICE to bring somebody into our facility and we would not hold them unless it dealt with a court order or warrant," he said. "As an association, as a group of sheriffs in the state of Iowa we have looked at this situation and have discussed it. The decision goes back to the individual sheriff and what they want to do for their county."
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer did not immediately return messages.