In a decision with wide-ranging implications for immigrants across New York, a state judge ruled unequivocally last week that it is illegal under state law for local law enforcement agencies to make immigration arrests at ICE’s request.

This ruling means that law enforcement can no longer detain someone unless they are suspected of committing a crime. If a person would have been freed by police if it weren’t for ICE’s request to hold them, then they must be let go.

The ruling makes clear that local law enforcement can’t oblige when the federal government sends requests to jails asking authorities to hold people in custody so ICE can come pick them up. It also means state officials can’t detain someone after a vehicle or street stop, simply because they are suspected of committing a civil immigration offense.

So for example, a police officer cannot at the end of an otherwise valid car or street stop, keep the car on the side of the road to wait for Customs and Border Protection or ICE to arrive.

This decision has the potential to keep thousands of immigrant New Yorkers out of the clutches of President Trump’s mass-deportation force. It proves that police and sheriffs in New York not only should not, but cannot do ICE’s bidding.

The ruling joins decisions in both Massachusetts and Colorado that put similar limits on local law enforcement’s cooperation with immigration authorities.

The New York case stems from a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in December 2017 on behalf of Susai Francis, an immigrant from India. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office refused to release Francis after he pled guilty to a disorderly conduct violation and received a sentence of time-served. The Sheriff’s Office held Francis in jail at ICE’s request for nearly two more days during which the state appeals court heard the NYCLU’s urgent petition for his release.

This decision has the potential to keep thousands of immigrant New Yorkers out of the clutches of President Trump’s mass-deportation force.
 

Unfortunately, the court did not rule in time to prevent ICE officials from taking custody of Mr. Francis and transporting him to a detention facility in New Jersey. But the court ruled last week that the detention of Francis constituted an arrest that the Sheriff’s Office had no authority to make.

In response to calls from the NYCLU and other advocates, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office in Long Island had stopped enforcing so-called ICE “detainer” requests in 2014. But after President Trump’s election, the Sheriff’s Office reversed course, leading to a wave of detentions. In 2017, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office received more requests to detain immigrants for ICE than any other sheriff’s office in New York State. The judge’s decision clearly established that the sheriff’s policy of honoring those requests is unlawful.

That’s because, the NYCLU successfully argued that New York state law gives officers specific, well-defined powers for arresting someone, and the power to make immigration arrests isn’t one of them. After the decision, Suffolk County announced it would no longer honor ICE detainer requests. Other departments, including Long Island’s neighboring Nassau County, have said the same.

But following ICE’s marching orders isn’t just illegal in New York, it’s bad public policy that makes communities less safe. That’s because when immigrant communities know that local authorities are working hand-in-hand with ICE, people are much less likely to reach out for help, to report a crime or to come forward as a witness. Community trust is critical to effective law enforcement and any hopes of building that trust are thrown out the window when ICE is in the mix.

With the judge’s ruling in hand, our next step is to make sure law enforcement agencies across the state know about it. Through the NYCLU’s chapter officers, we are working to educate community advocates and local government officials about what the decision means, and are encouraging attorneys and other community members to tell us if they think officers in their area aren’t complying with the court’s order.

This ruling should help police and other local officials understand that people are safer when ICE isn’t calling the shots.

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The New York Civil Liberties Union is a state affiliate of the ACLU

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