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San Francisco Joins Trend of Stopping Holds on Undocumented Immigrants

San Francisco is the latest city to stop honoring ICE detention requests for suspects accused of being undocumented immigrants.
Photo by Joseph Kranak

San Francisco County will halt honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests for suspected undocumented immigrants, the sheriff announced on Thursday.

The notoriously accepting city is reacting to what has emerged as a national trend — including dozens of counties in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Oregon to name a few — following an US District Court ruling in Oregon on April 11 that said counties are unlawfully jailing suspected undocumented immigrants placed on ICE holds.


The ICE holds are part of the federal Secure Communities program, which the government touts as a “simple and common sense way” to remove “criminal aliens,” and those undocumented immigrants who pose a “threat to public safety.”

'My long-held belief is that local law enforcement should not be in the civil immigration detainer business.'

They have long been controversial in San Francisco — community activists and politicians have worked for over three years to reform ICE holds that some see as unnecessarily punitive — and elsewhere in the country. In Illinois and Oregon, civil rights activists such as the ACLU have lobbied for policy reform.

“My long-held belief is that local law enforcement should not be in the civil immigration detainer business,” San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said in a statement. “Public safety is not advanced and could be hindered when immigrant communities fear the repercussions of cooperating with law enforcement.”

Most sheriff departments, which manage county jails, process suspects through a federal system to verify their immigration status. Normally, people accused of less-serious crimes — usually non-violent misdemeanors — are booked and then released without being held. Even those accused of more serious crimes are allowed to post bail.

But if the person is accused of being undocumented, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would flag the inmate, and issue a 48-hour hold. Prior to the US District Court decision the person would be held for that time, no matter what.


'We're just asking ICE to provide us with the information that courts have said we need.'

The theory is that once a suspected undocumented immigrant is held, ICE would be able to retrieve and process the person for deportation.

The crux of the legal issue was that ICE detainers in and of themselves do not contain a determination of probable cause, or a warrant for request — therefore trampling on suspected undocumented immigrants’ right to due process. That’s ultimately why the Oregon court ruled that the holds violate constitutional rights.

Because of the court decision sheriffs’ departments are now telling the feds that they’ll need to provide a judicial determination or an arrest warrant to execute an ICE hold.

“We're saying to ICE, 'Go out and get some probable cause,’” Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker told USA Today. "We're just asking ICE to provide us with the information that courts have said we need.”

ICE said in a statement that releasing suspected undocumented immigrants poses a public danger, and that the agency aims to deport convicted criminals and other threats. It didn’t return several calls requesting comment from VICE News.

The ACLU has applauded the decision to stop honoring ICE detainers without probable cause.

Upon the San Diego sheriff announcing the policy shift yesterday — the largest county in the country to do so — an ACLU spokesperson told ABC10 News. “This is another step on the path to reform our broken immigration system and promote trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”

Follow Max Cherney on Twitter: @chernandburn

Photo via Flickr