Pressure Mounts in Travis County as Federal Judge Rules ICE Detainers Violate Constitutional Rights

April 23, 2014

Nine Sheriffs in Oregon cease compliance with S-Comm, Sheriff Greg Hamilton should follow their example to avoid putting County at risk for liability

(AUSTIN, Texas) – A federal court ruled in Oregon last week that a county had violated an immigrant’s constitutional rights by complying with a detainer request from federal immigration authorities. In response, sheriffs in nine counties in the state have announced that they will no longer comply with such detainers issued under the “Secure Communities” program.

The ruling and the action by the sheriffs is in stark contrast to the position of Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, whose support of S-Comm and ICE detainers has come under fire from the local community.

The nine counties that have chosen to end their cooperation with federal immigration authorities cover over 70% of Oregon’s population. Sheriff Gary Bettencourt, the president of the Oregon State’s Sheriff’s Association and sheriff of Gilliam County, said he expected many more counties to follow suit in the near future. “We will no longer violate anybody’s constitutional rights, I can guarantee that,” he added.

"I eagerly await the day we hear Sheriff Hamilton say something like that,” said Alejandro Caceres of the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition. “Right now, Travis County is on the wrong side of history on this and I’m afraid that this ruling means we will soon find our county on the wrong side of the law.”

Travis County taxpayers have cause to be nervous after the judge also found that the county was liable for damages to the plaintiff.  This decision is the latest in a series of federal rulings this year, which include one from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in March, that question the constitutionality of compliance with immigration detainers, declare that compliance is not mandatory, and find that counties can be held liable for constitutional abuses that arise out of compliance with these detainers.

“As more federal court rulings come down the pipeline, it has become undeniably clear that local cooperation and compliance with detainer requests from federal immigration authorities violates people’s constitutional rights,” said Amelia Ruiz Fischer, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for Sheriff Hamilton to change his stance. His policy is not legally sound and patently violates people’s civil rights — he’s opening up Travis County to legal liability,” she added.

This major shift in Oregon adds to the swelling consensus among localities across the nation that civil immigration enforcement has no place in local law enforcement, and that compliance with immigration detainers have caused immigrants to fear police, harmed community policing efforts, and damaged public safety.

Last week’s decision from the federal judge in Oregon concluded that the plaintiff’s prolonged detention in the county jail, brought on by the sheriff’s compliance with an immigration detainer that had been lodged against the plaintiff, violated her 4th amendment rights because the detainer alone did not “demonstrate probable cause.”  Immigration detainers, commonly called ICE detainers or ICE holds, request that jails hold detainees in custody for longer than they would otherwise be held to allow immigration agents to take custody of the detainee. They do not require probable cause to be issued and are not judicially reviewed.

Sheriff Hamilton had long maintained that the federal government mandated his compliance with immigration detainers, but once it became clear that such compliance is voluntary, he announced that he would continue to cooperate fully with immigration authorities regardless. But with so many cases and policies taking the opposite stance, the sheriff and other county leaders would do well to reconsider.