Travis County Attorneys Warn Elected Officials: "Compliance with ICE Detainer Program Violates Constitutional Rights"

May 7, 2014

Press Conference and Letter Addressed to County Judge and Commissioners Court Urge Travis County to Cease Honoring ICE Detainers Due to Potential Legal Liability

(AUSTIN, Texas) - University of Texas School of Law professors and Travis County attorneys will host a PRESS CONFERENCE, THURSDAY MAY 8th, 2014, at 10:30am, at the County Commissioners Court to advise Travis County officials that honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers through Secure Communities (S-Comm) exposes the county to legal liability for constitutional violations.

The group will present a letter, signed by more than 100 local attorneys and law professorsaddressed to County Judge Sam Biscoe and the County Commissioners, which explains how Travis County’s participation in the ICE detainer program of S-Comm exposes the county to legal liability and potential lawsuits.  “The continued detention of an individual in the Travis County Jail based on an ICE detainer,” the letter explains, “violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.”

The letter was prompted by legal decisions across the country including, most recently, in Oregon, where a federal judge declared that the ICE detainer program violates the Fourth Amendment. The ruling caused thirty-one sheriffs in Oregon to end their participation.

“We prepared this letter because of the increasing number of court cases that have held counties and cities liable for constitutional violations for prolonging the detention of individuals based solely on a detainer request from ICE,” said Barbara Hines, clinical professor at the University of Texas School of Law and author of the letter. “The courts have concluded that an ICE detainer is not a warrant and does not provide legal authority for continued incarceration.  Recently, numerous counties in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have ended their participation in the ICE detainer program because of potential lawsuits,” she explained.

In the last two weeks, sheriffs in 52 additional counties, including 13 counties in Colorado, 31 counties in Oregon, and 8 counties in Washington, joined the growing number of municipalities across the country who have ceased to honor ICE detainers issued through S-Comm, citing concerns regarding legal liability and the changing legal landscape. Now, more than 70 counties and cities throughout the U.S., including Cook County, Illinois, King County, Washington, New York City, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Miami-Dade County, Florida, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the states of California and Connecticut, have limited or completely ended their compliance with ICE detainers.  

Sheriff Greg Hamilton has defended Travis County’s participation in S-Comm and compliance with ICE detainers vigorously, despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and other courts have clearly stated that compliance with the detainer program is voluntary.

Immigrant rights groups have long contended that S-Comm generates fear of law enforcement within the immigrant community.  This concern is echoed in the attorney and law professor letter, which states that “Secure Communities is not making our county and neighborhoods safer; in fact, it is doing the opposite.”

“By complying with S-Comm’s ICE detainer program, Travis County is making the choice to violate people’s constitutional rights on a daily basis,” said Amelia Ruiz Fischer, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The legal findings and conclusions in the Oregon lawsuit are not at all particular to the county or state where the violation occurred -- the federal judge ruled that the policy and practice of prolonging a detainee’s custody for any amount of time based solely on an ICE detainer is unconstitutional,” Fischer explained. “That’s the same exact policy and practice the Travis County Jail has adopted and implements every single day, which means Travis County is just as legally liable as the county defendant in the Oregon lawsuit, and is violating the same constitutional rights.”                                            

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, Travis County has one of the highest rates of honored ICE detainers in the country. Seventy-three percent of ICE detainers issued in Travis County were against individuals who were ultimately not convicted of any crime. In the last four years, approximately 4,600 people were deported from Travis County as a result of Secure Communities and the Travis County Jail’s compliance with ICE detainers.


What: Press Conference

When: Thursday, May 8th at 10:30 A.M.

Where: 700 Lavaca, Austin, Texas


Contact: Amelia Ruiz Fischer, Attorney, Texas Civil Rights Project, 554-2826

Barbara Hines, Clinical Professor of Law; Co-Director, Immigration Clinic, University of Texas School of Law, 699-3337