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Immigration deal thrusts Indy into one of the biggest debates of the Trump era

September 4, 2017| Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

A deal struck between the Marion County Sheriff's Office and the ACLU of Indiana has thrust Indianapolis into one of the largest points of contention in the Trump administration:

Immigration enforcement and its costs.

The federal government under President Donald Trump is encouraging local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain possible illegal aliens — but without probable cause that they are in the country illegally. ICE is seeking more time to check their citizenship status and, if needed, get a deportation warrant, even if the initial arrest is for something minor, say a traffic infraction.

More: Marion County Sheriff faces pressure to stop detaining immigrants

Cities and local law enforcement are bearing not only the costs of the longer detainer stays but also the legal expenses should court challenges arise.

Such is the case in Indianapolis. In July the Sheriff's Office, already strapped financially for a host of reasons, and the ACLU of Indiana proposed to end compliance with ICE detainment requests that do not include probable cause. Court documents filed by city attorneys cited the cost of litigation as motivation to end a lawsuit the ACLU filed in September after an Indianapolis man living in the country illegally was detained after a hearing in traffic court.

ACLU volunteers handed out US Constitutions on Monument

ACLU volunteers handed out US Constitutions on Monument Circle, Friday, September 16, 2016, in commemoration of Constitution Day. In 1787, the document establishing rights for Americans, was signed. Constitution Day has been nationally observed since 2004.  (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar)


The Justice Department weighed in three days later. In a 55-page document filed Aug. 4, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler said "the United States has a substantial interest in, and long history of, working cooperatively with state and local governments on a range of law-enforcement priorities, including violent crime, homeland security, illegal narcotics, human trafficking, and immigration.” 

City officials took note. 

"The Marion County Sheriff’s Office spent the better part of a year strongly urging the federal government to take an active role in this litigation,” city attorney Donald Morgan wrote in a reply. “The United States’ sudden interest is surprising."

A professor at the University of Denver's law school who specializes in immigration law was less surprised.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández said Indianapolis is one of several new examples of the federal government pressuring local law enforcement agencies to comply with detainer requests despite possible violations against the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against jailing people without probable cause. Florida and Texas have seen similar examples this month. 

More: DOJ, U.S. Attorney join in ICE detainer lawsuit

More: Hoosiers march against Sheriff's Department ICE detainer policy

More: Indianapolis looks to end compliance with immigration detainer requests

Wednesday at Holy Spirit Catholic Church on the east side, activists came together to protest Trump's plan to deport any and all illegal immigrants. The rising number of detainers had not gone unnoticed.

"This is an attack on our families," the Rev. Sharon Trotter said. "It is an attack on us all."

The Justice Department declined comment for this story.

Some lawmakers in Indiana welcome the increased use of ICE detainers.

State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, told IndyStar in June that "there was one driving message that Trump ran his platform on, and that is to enforce immigration laws," Delph said. "It is one of the basic pillars of the Trump administration."

Immigration detainers are not arrest warrants signed by a judge. They are written requests sent by ICE that ask local police to detain individuals an additional 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released from an arrest unrelated to citizenship, say on a count of drunken driving or driving without a license.

The detainer requests allow ICE time to determine whether a person is a flight risk or a potential danger to the public, agency spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said.

The detainers would not be possible locally without the assistance, both physically and financially, of the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

ICE detainers in Indianapolis have more than doubled since the beginning of Trump's presidency. From January to August, 382 people have been incarcerated through ICE detainer requests in Indianapolis; during the same period a year before, the number was 185, according to Marion County Sheriff’s Office data. The Sheriff's Office says it costs $75 a day to house a person under arrest.

 

Expenses elsewhere also are mounting for the Sheriff's Office. In August, Marion County Sheriff John Layton sent a memo to local law enforcement agencies announcing a host of cuts to services. He said his department will close the Arrestee Processing Center and no longer provide security while people under arrest are hospitalized, among other measures. He cited a shrinking budget, jail overcrowding and an opioid epidemic that drains resources. 

"The current situation has forced us to make difficult decisions," Layton wrote.

Both Layton and  Morgan declined to comment for this story.

Delph argues that the costs of not enforcing immigration laws far surpasses the costs of litigation.

"There's a tremendous cost in health care, education and incarceration" of immigrants, Delph said. "There is a cost for not enforcing the law that I believe is greater than the cost of enforcing the law."

Despite the financial burden thrust upon cities, the federal government has taken a firm stance on what it perceives is a local government’s responsibility. 

In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged "sanctuary cities" to comply with federal immigration detainer requests or risk losing billions of dollars in federal grant funding. The term is used to describe cities that do not comply with detainer requests or other federal immigration initiatives.

"Such policies cannot continue,'' Sessions said in the White House briefing room. "They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.'"

Hernandez in Denver said "one of the scare tactics that the Trump administration is trying to use to force law enforcement agencies to work with them is to threaten to withhold grants."

The Trump administration, intent on building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, further underscored its stance toward the role of local authorities when the Justice Department inserted itself into the settlement forged between the Sheriff's Office and the ACLU. 

The lawsuit stemmed from the case of Antonio Lopez-Aguilar. The Indianapolis resident appeared at the Marion County Traffic Court in September 2014 to answer for a misdemeanor charge that he had operated an automobile without a license.

Once the hearing concluded — without any requirement that he serve jail time for the charge — he was informed by a sergeant that he was being taken into custody until he could be transferred to the custody of ICE. Lopez-Aguilar is living in the country illegally. 

The ACLU alleges that ICE arrested and held Lopez-Aguilar without cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. 

The agreement between the Sheriff's Office and the ACLU awaits the signature of U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker. 

Jason Flora, an Indianapolis member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says while ICE detainers presented a constitutional issue long before Donald Trump's presidency, "the biggest thing they're doing is going after everyone, regardless of their criminal history."

Call IndyStar reporter Fatima Hussein at (317) 444-6209. Follow her on Twitter: @fatimathefatima.