Tag Archives: detention

Montgomery County Maryland Says No to ICE!

8 Oct

MoCo

Great news right out of our own backyard.  Montgomery County, Maryland, the county that surrounds most of Northwest Washington DC and the most populous county in Maryland, announced today that its jails would no longer honor detainers issued by Immigration & Customs Enforcement except under very specific circumstances.  This decision places a vice grip on one of the region’s most reliable ICE enforcement pipelines and is further evidence that local municipalities are rejecting the damage done to communities by the heavy-handed enforcement activities of the current administration.  We answer some basic questions about what this change means.

What is a Detainer?

A detainer is a request filed by Immigration & Customs Enforcement with a jail or prison asking the jail or prison t0o continue to detain an individual beyond their release date so that ICE can assume custody over the individual.

Is this like an “ICE hold?”

Yes, an “ICE hold” is a common name for a detainer.

Are there any rules about detainers?

Yes, under U.S. immigration law, ICE may only request that a jurisdiction hold an individual up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release date (not including holidays and weekends) for ICE to assume custody of a detainee.

Why does ICE issue detainers?

ICE issues a detainer when it learns that an individual being held in local law enforcement custody may be subject to removal from the United States.  The issuance of a detainer is how ICE expresses an interest in an individual.  It does not necessarily mean that an individual is subject to removal.  A detainer allows ICE to assume custody and determine whether to charge an individual with removal.

Is a jurisdiction obligated to honor ICE detainers?

No.  An increasing number of jurisdictions are rejecting ICE detainers as inconsistent with their own law enforcement prerogatives.  Over 250 jurisdictions including the State of California, New York City, Washington DC, Boston, Denver and San Francisco refuse to honor ICE detainers.

What happens if ICE does not assume custody over an individual after 48 hours?

The facility should release that individual.  The authority to detain an individual beyond their release date is limited to 48 hours.  Municipalities that detain individuals beyond that period are at risk of liability for unlawful detention.

Can an ICE hold prevent someone from being released on bail pre-trial?

Many local judges and prosecutors wrongly assume that a person subject to a detainer can not be released on bail pre-trial.  A detainer does not render someone ineligible for release on bond.  Many jurisdictions have assumed that because a detainer exists, bail may not be ordered.  Sometimes if a person gets bail from a judge, the family has a hard time making the payment because the clerk believes she can not take it due to the detainer.  Individuals eligible for bail should seek bail despite the existence of a detainer.  Once the bail has been made, ICE may assume custody.  However, since an individual will not have been convicted of a deportable offense at that time, ICE’s ability to detain may be limited.  Criminal attorneys seeking bail for clients subject to detainers should coordinate with immigration counsel to pursue the most advantageous strategy for the client.

Why did Montgomery County do this?

In April 2014, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley determined that jurisdictions in Maryland may face liability for detaining individuals after their eligibility for release.  As counties absorbed the impact of this opinion and sought to protect themselves, counties began to rethink the wisdom of cooperating with detainers.  In August 2014, the City of Baltimore stopped honoring detainers followed by Price George’s County in October.  With Montgomery County, Maryland’s largest county, following suit, the momentum against detainers is unmistakable.O'Malley

Why did Martin O’Malley do this?

O’Malley is widely believed to be running for President as a Democrat in 2016.  O’Malley has clearly chosen to take a more aggressively pro-immigrant stand than other potential Presidential candidates.

FOBR Olsi Vrapi Tries to Represent a Child in Artesia, New Mexico

21 Jul

kob ice facility artessia

Olsi Vrapi is a Friend of Benach Ragland who practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He recently found himself on the front line of the battle of how to handle the major influx of refugee children at the Southern Border.  In this chilling blogpost entitled “The Artesia Experience,” Olsi describes his experience visiting his client in the new facility in Artesia, New Mexico where the government is detaining Central American children and families.  His conclusion is brutally honest:

My impression of the Artesia makeshift detention center is that it is a due process travesty.  Is it really coincidence that a detention center was set up overnight in the middle of nowhere where the closest immigration lawyer or non-profit (which by the way can’t provide direct representation) is 3+ hours away?  In the few weeks it has been in operation, there have been no non-profits doing legal orientation programs, there are no non-profits that provide direct representation to those detained there and asylum interviews and hearings are happening so fast and are so short that even the most diligent detainees can’t get counsel fast enough to be advised before they are interviewed or are given any meaningful opportunity to tell their stories.  It appears the government is paying lip service to due process and just going through the statutory and regulatory requirements as fast as possible so they can give a semblance of compliance while the airplane to central America is warming its engines in nearby Roswell.  This is the same as a child being asked to clean his room, and he stuffs everything under the bed to “comply” with the command and ends up making it worse, except in our cases it’s not a matter of putting dirty laundry in the hamper, it’s women and children that can get killed if returned home.  As a father of three small children, I can’t help the kids’ analogies.

To make matters worse, Congress is using the crisis as an attempt to roll back well-established asylum protections.  Yesterday, Dree Collopy wrote about the horrendous legislation being proposed by Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that would undermine critical protections for refugees and asylum-seekers.  As bad as the current system is, Congress can make it worse.  The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition has a good summary of the legislation and provides a quick link to contact Congress.

Thanks to Olsi for representing families in Artesia and sharing their story with the world.

We will keep you informed about pro bono opportunities and donation opportunities as this crisis continues to unfold.

 

An Open Letter to Rep. Spencer Bachus

21 Mar

Dear Congressman Bachus,

Thank you very much for speaking out about the overuse of detention by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in civil proceedings to determine the removability of individuals in the U.S.  By stating and asking “it looks to me like there is an overuse of detention by this administration.  If these people are not safety risks . . . why are we detaining them?,” you have joined the growing chorus of Americans who wonder why the government, during a time of fiscal crisis, spends so much money locking people up during immigration proceedings when they present no danger to society.  You are welcome in our club and we are glad to have you.

However, we do think it is important that you understand the role you played in building the gulag archipelago of immigration detention.  The explosion of immigration detention is a direct result of legislation you voted for, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.  This law, more than any decision by the Obama administration, has resulted in the overuse of detention for individuals in removal proceedings.  While you are right to question the overuse of detention by the administration, please do not overlook Congress’, and your, responsibility in forcing the detention of tens of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are not safety risks.  IIRIRA fueled the explosion of detention in several ways.  First, it expanded mandatory detention to cover lots of people convicted of minor offenses.   Mandatory detention has forced ICE (and INS before ICE) to detain people during the course of their removal proceedings.  These individuals had no right to individualized determinations of their risk to society or likelihood to appear for hearings.  By expanding the classes of people subject to mandatory detention, Congress created a base layer of detainees.  It is true that interpretations by this and previous administrations have increased the potential pool of mandatory detainees, but mandatory detention and its wide reach is a creation of Congress.  Second, IIRIRA labelled many minor offenses as “aggravated felonies,” requiring detention during removal proceedings.  For example, an individual convicted of shoplifting a pair of $100 sunglasses might be sentenced to one year imprisonment, with service of the sentence suspended.  In other words, the criminal court would determine that that individual should not serve jail time unless they do something bad during the year of the suspended sentence.  Under IIRIRA’s overinclusive language, such an offense would be an aggravated felony and subject that individual to mandatory detention.  And IIRIRA made it clear that it did not matter when the offense occurred.  It is hard to imagine that this hypothetical defendant is a safety risk, but the law gives ICE and the immigration courts no authority to release that individual.  Third, IIRIRA created 287(g) partnerships with state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.  The explosion of detention is also directly related to the numbers of people coming to ICE’s attention because a local police officer pulls an immigrant over for failing to use a turn signal.  IIRIRA is the impetus to Arizona-style laws, one of the worst of which was passed in your own Alabama, Congressman.  Fourth, by creating the ten year bar to return to the U.S., IIRIRA made it close to impossible for many immigrants to regularize their status.  Thus, individuals who would have been able to obtain residence under previous laws, remained in the U.S. in unlawful status.  When encountered by ICE, they have often been detained in the discretionary determinations of ICE.  It is true that here is an area where the administration’s overuse of detention is due to the refusal to exercise favorable discretion, but please note that many of these people would be legal residents if not for the 1996 Act.  In addition, please recognize the role that the fear of Congressional rebuke plays in ICE’s decisions.  Take a look at the outcry from your colleagues when ICE released 2200 detainees last month in anticipation of the sequester.  Moreover, Congressional intent has been a key building block of the judicial decisions that have legalized the massive detention edifice.  Decisions such as the Supreme Court’s Demore v. Kim, which upheld mandatory detention, and Matter of Rojas, where the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that mandatory detention applies to people released from custody years or decades ago, are underpinned by statements that Congress intended to impose an unyielding policy of detention in IIRIRA.

Finally, Congress has provided ICE with enormous sums of money to spend on detention.  As you know, nature abhors a vacuum.  As Congress states that it intends to tighten spending, the unnecessary detention of the thousands of people who present no real danger to society should be looked at skeptically.  ICE will spend the money Congress gives it on detention.  It is up to Congress to say “no.”

Congressman, thank you for taking a stand against the overuse of detention.  We are glad to have you as an ally and hope that you use your position in Congress to advocate for more sensible immigration policies.  Thanks again for speaking out and we hope that the words are matched with action.

Sincerely,

Benach Ragland LLP

 

Benach Ragland Submits Brief in Mandatory Detention Case

21 Feb

Earlier this month, Benach Ragland authored a brief on behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in the case of Michael Sylvain v. Attorney General before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  In Sylvain, the court must decide whether the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) requires the detention of individuals convicted of certain offenses regardless of how long it has been since they were released from criminal custody. On behalf of AILA, Benach Ragland argued to the court that people released from custody prior to Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) assumption of custody are entitled to a bond hearing where an immigration judge can make a determination as to whether they are flight risks or dangers to the community.  ICE argues that the INA gives immigration judges no authority to consider the release such individuals and that they must be detained for the duration of their removal proceedings regardless of how long it has been since they were convicted of an offense.

In Sylvain, the government defends a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Rojas.  In Rojas, the BIA decided that the mandatory detention provisions of the INA require detention without possibility of release on bond regardless of when that person was released from criminal custody.  However, the INA mandatory detention provision states that certain individuals shall be taken into custody “when the alien is released.”  The BIA decided in Rojas that that language did not limit ICE to apply mandatory detention to individuals regardless of when they were released.  Under Rojas, an individual would be subject to detention without any sort of review by a judge even if they had been released from prison a decade earlier.  As immigration judges around the country cited Rojas and explained that their hands were tied, advocates went to U.S. District Courts around the country and sought habeas corpus review.  Almost uniformly, the federal courts told the immigration service that Rojas was wrong and that the detained individual was entitled to a bond hearing.  The immigrant was then released.   ICE rarely appealed these decisions to the courts of appeals.

However, they did so in Hosh v. Lucero.  In that case, a district court judge found that Rojas was wrongly decided and ordered an immigration judge to hold a bond hearing.  However, this time, the government, sensing a possibly friendly court in the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, a court known for giving the government wide berth to operate, appealed the judge’s decision.  The government’s gamble paid off and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court judge and deferred to the BIA’s decision in Rojas, foreclosing habeas relief in the states of the 4th Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia).  Although district courts in the Fourth Circuit must follow Hosh, district courts outside of the Fourth Circuit have not found Hosh terribly persuasive.

Now this issue is before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, in Sylvain.  A decision rejecting Rojas would create a split between the Third and the Fourth Circuits, possibly leading the way to Supreme Court review.  Oral argument is coming next month and we will report from the argument and when a decision comes down.

The Immigration Industrial Complex

9 Jan

5a6cb_man-shocked-at-billThe Migration Policy Institute recently released a study documenting that the U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, dwarfing the $14 million spent on other federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI, the DEA and the ATF, combined, received $14 billion.  Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s budget, alone, is $6 billion.  Something is seriously out of whack here.

None of this is surprising to immigration attorneys.  ICE runs a gulag archipelago of detention centers across the country, holding immigrants who have overstayed visas, entered without inspection, seek asylum, and  committed minor offenses.  ICE has continued to push in the federal courts for expansive definitions of mandatory detention, even if it means detaining people for offenses committed decades ago.  In 2011, ICE detained over 429,000 people, more than any other single government entity.  More than the Bureau of Prisons, the States of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.  ICE operates in its own jails, rents out space at local jails and contracts with private companies like the GEO corporation to manage this enormous population.  In addition, ICE has contracts with BI Incorporated to monitor individuals with final orders of removal.  This often involves ankle bracelets with GPS, telephonic and in-person reporting.  BI officials also monitor an individual’s efforts to obtain passports and plane tickets to depart the U.S. under an removal order.  In other words, they do ICE’s job.  And, frankly, they are pretty good at it.  Over 400,000 removals in 2011 shows how good BI is.  If budget hawks are serious about making government run like a business, how about saving money by eliminating the middleman?

The large budgetary excess for immigration enforcement also provides an explanation for the massive ICE resistance to immigration reform.  After all, if undocumented youth are getting DACA rather than being detained and deported, bed spaced is being underutilized and removals may go down.  In our current economic environment, it won’t be long before some budget-cutting legislator begins to question the excess of the the immigration enforcement budget.  If ICE were to exercise discretion and not detain and deport everyone that they possibly could, can they fulfill their contracts with the private companies that have built jails throughout the country.  If ICE were to take a more reasonable approach to enforcement, would they need to send out 20 agents before dawn to arrest four plumbers working a contract at Dulles because they are working on fake green cards?

The large amount of money at stake for immigration enforcement makes it clear that the efforts of some ICE bureaucrats to derail common-sense immigration reform is a result not of a principled belief in our national security and public safety, but rather to protect their exalted place at the public trough.

As we spend months debating the economic future of this country and what immigration reform will look like, it is worth contrasting the unproductive use of $18 billion tax dollars that ICE has commanded on an enforcement roid rage with the agreed-upon economic stimulus that would be provided by an immigration reform package.

Protecting the Homeland

3 Jan
English: Mo Farah during EC Cross 2008

English: Mo Farah during EC Cross 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever heard of Mo Farah? If you watched the London Olympics last summer, the name likely rings a bell. Mohamed “Mo” Farah is a Somali-born British track and field superstar. He is the current Olympic champion at the 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters. He is also World Champion and European Champion at the shorter distance. A few days ago, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in honor of his athletic achievements. Pretty impressive, right?

Well, according to U.S. immigration officials, he’s also a suspected terrorist. Just before Christmas, when he was returning to Oregon to spend the holidays with his family, he was pulled out of line by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and questioned for hours. You can read the full story as reported by the New York Daily News here. Farah was understandably shocked by the treatment he encountered. “I couldn’t believe it. Because of my Somali origin I get detained every time I come through US Customs. This time I even got my medals out to show who I am, but they wouldn’t have it.” Can this be right? Despite being shown his two gold medals from the London Olympic Games, CBP officials continued to question Farah and investigate whether he posed a terrorist threat? Could it be that CBP Portland doesn’t yet have access to the internet?

Perhaps more troubling, this was not Farah’s first run-in with U.S. immigration officials or the first time he’s had to fight to clear his name. When he applied for permanent residency (a “green card”) last year, immigration authorities informed him that he was under investigation as a potential terrorist threat. His application was only processed – and approved – after he reached out to his coach, famed former champion Alberto Salazar (heard that name before?). Apparently, Salazar contacted a friend in the FBI who made some calls and helped sort things out. Is that really what it takes?

Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, arrival for press...

Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, has been detained by the CBP on several occasions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sadly, the answer is yes. In April of last year, Indian film superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained and questioned by U.S. immigration officials in White Plains, New York. Khan is arguably Bollywood’s biggest star, a veritable industry unto himself. He is much beloved in his homeland – and around the world – but, alas, he also has a Muslim-sounding name. Like Farah, this was a repeat occurrence for Khan, who was previously detained for two hours at Newark Airport and released only following intervention by the Embassy of India. Khan wryly commented: “Whenever I start feeling arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.”

Okay, a couple of isolated incidents, right? Hardly. In December 2010, India’s then-Ambassador to the United States Meera Shankar was pulled out of the security line at an airport in Mississippi and frisked by an immigration officer, apparently because she was wearing a sari. On two occasions, former Indian President APJ Abdul Karam was singled out and frisked by immigration officials. One of those times, agents also saw fit to confiscate his jacket and shoes. The list goes on and on.

A few years ago, we represented a well-known Tibetan folk singer named Yungchen Lhamo, and helped her obtain a green card based on her exceptional ability in the arts. Lhamo, who has been called the world’s leading Tibetan vocalist, has performed around the world and recorded with the likes of Annie Lennox, Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, Philip Glass, and Sheryl Crow. Her songs were featured on the soundtrack of Seven Years in Tibet, and Peter Gabriel was so taken by her ethereal voice that he signed her to his prestigious Real World Records label. Lhamo, who walked to freedom from Tibet to India over the Himalaya mountains, stands all of five feet tall, often wears traditional Tibetan clothing, and greets the world with a warm, gentle demeanor. Obvious security threat.

Lhamo told me that every time she travels back to the United States – she’s a permanent resident, mind you, who lives in New York – she is stopped, detained for hours, sometimes questioned (but other times not), and ignored when she attempts to explain who she is. “Finally, I have to bring out my photo album,” she told me. The album, which she also showed me, contains photographs of Lhamo and Paul McCartney. Lhamo and Sting. Lhamo and Peter Gabriel. Lhamo and John Cleese. And (my personal favorite) Lhamo and the Smashing Pumpkins. And many, many more. “Usually, after a few hours, one of the officers will say ‘Oh, you must be someone important’ and they’ll finally let me go.” But there are no apologies, no notations in the system, and she can expect the same mistreatment next time around.

Now, some will say this is just the price we pay in the post-9/11 world to ensure that we’re safe, to ensure America’s security. But as Benjamin Franklin famously remarked: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And does anyone truly feel safer knowing that our national security is in the hands of government agents who can’t distinguish between an Olympic gold medalist and a terrorist threat? Or a global movie superstar, or an Ambassador to the U.S., or a former President of India? Can we not instruct these agents in how to use Google? At least Barney Fife wasn’t put in charge of anything important.

What other agency of the U.S. government is permitted to engage in such blatant racial, ethnic, and religious profiling? Who other than officers of the Department of Homeland Security are empowered to detain and interrogate lawful U.S. residents based solely on their country of origin, the sound of their name, or the clothes they happen to be wearing? Where else but in DHS can we find such institutionalized xenophobia?

But fret not! Our hard-working immigration officials are protecting the homeland from the likes of Mo Farah and Yungchen Lhamo. Feel safer now?