ACLU of Delaware Advises Local Law Enforcement to Resist Becoming Part of a Trump Administration Immigrant Dragnet

Local Jurisdictions Have No Obligation to Act as Federal Immigrant Enforcement, Group Says


March 27, 2017

CONTACT: Ryan Tack-Hooper, 302-654-5326 x 105;

WILMINGTON - The ACLU of Delaware sent a letter to police agencies and local elected officials today, outlining the dangers of acting as President Trump’s immigration deportation force. According to the letter, local law enforcement are not obligated under federal law to participate in immigration enforcement, and in fact face potential legal liability for doing so.

“Police agencies should know that they have a choice about whether to push aside local law enforcement priorities in order to enforce federal immigration law, as President Trump would like,” said Ryan Tack Hooper, Staff Attorney and Legislative Advocate for the ACLU of Delaware. “In fact, we’re all better off if they choose not to become an arm of a federal deportation force.”

When the sound principles of community policing are sacrificed to do the federal government’s job, the safety of the community suffers and localities put themselves at risk of being sued for unconstitutional practices,” he continued.

The Trump Administration has threatened to strip federal funds from jurisdictions that decline to direct local personnel and resources toward federal immigration priorities. However, prior court decisions indicate that the Administration will encounter substantial hurdles if it attempts to follow through on that pledge.

In particular, the ACLU raised concerns over local law enforcement compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, or written requests that local law enforcement detain an individual for an additional 48 hours after they would otherwise be released. ICE detainers are typically issued without a judicial warrant supported by probable cause. As a result, once the traditional basis for criminal detention of an individual has lapsed, continued detention violates the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unlawful detentions.

Hundreds of detainers have been placed on people not subject to removal, including U.S. citizens. Here in Delaware, from 2003 to 2015 ICE issued 84 ICE detainers without knowing whether the individual was a U.S. citizen. Federal courts around the nation have held ICE and local law enforcement agencies liable for unconstitutional detentions under ICE detainers.

The ACLU also raised concerns over participation in the 287(g) program, under which local police officers perform federal immigration enforcement functions. This includes interrogating and arresting suspected noncitizens encountered in the field who they believe may be subject to deportation. This policy encourages officers to racially profile people on the streets and guess at their immigration status based on appearance or accent. It effectively transforms local police into federal immigration agents, but without the federal funds to cover all of the expenses incurred by the local jurisdiction, and without the same level of training that federal agents receive.

“Acting as a federal immigration agent will undermine law enforcement’s ability to prioritize local needs like responding to emergencies and preventing crime; destroy trust in law enforcement among immigrant communities and make people less likely to report crimes or serve as a witness; cost local jurisdictions millions in added expenses that are not reimbursed by the federal government; and expose local jurisdictions to liability for constitutional violations,” Tack-Hooper said.

A generic copy of the letter is available here.