The New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Monday, arguing that it lacks authority under state law to honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Detainers ask local officers to hold immigrants after they would otherwise be released from custody. Today’s suit seeks the release of Susai Francis, who is currently being held for ICE in a Suffolk County jail after he should have been released from custody. The NYCLU will argue for a writ of habeas corpus before the Second Department, Appellate Division in Brooklyn Tuesday morning at 10 am.
The detention of Mr. Francis by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office is the latest in an ongoing series of immigration arrests by local law enforcement agencies that overstep their authority under state law. Following the election of President Donald Trump, sanctuary cities like New York City have refused to comply with immigration detainer requests, while the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office reinstituted a previously abandoned policy of detaining immigrants for ICE.
“Not only should local law enforcement reject the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, but state law is also clear that local law enforcement can’t violate people’s rights in order to do ICE’s bidding,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The role of local law enforcement is to protect and serve all New Yorkers, and that is incompatible with the unlawful detention of our neighbors and family members at the behest of the Trump deportation machine.”
In response to calls from the NYCLU and other advocates, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office had stopped enforcing ICE detainer requests in 2014. But after President Trump’s election, the Sheriff’s Office reversed course, leading to a wave of detentions. This year the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office has received more requests to detain immigrants for ICE than any other sheriff’s office in New York State.
After Mr. Francis pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation in local criminal court Monday he should have been free to go. Instead, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office is currently holding Mr. Francis at the behest of ICE in a Suffolk County jail overnight. Mr. Francis has been a resident of Long Island, where he has raised two sons, for the past twenty-one years. The NYCLU’s suit seeks the release of Mr. Francis and a decisive ruling on the limits of local law enforcement’s authority.
“While the law is clear that local officers do not have the power to make immigration arrests, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and other New York agencies continue making unlawful immigration arrests on a routine basis,” said Jordan Wells, staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “New York must reject federal pressure on local officers to make unlawful arrests which erode community trust and further the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”
The New York Office of the Attorney General has long taken the position that state law does not authorize New York officers to make warrantless immigration arrests. In a 2000 letter to the attorney for Suffolk County, the Attorney General’s Office explained that state and local officers have “no authority to arrest” for an immigration law violation that imposes “just a civil penalty or deportation.” Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reaffirmed this position in guidance issued to local governments concerning ICE detainers, writing that “unlawful presence in the U.S., by itself, does not justify continued detention beyond that individual’s normal release date.” The AG’s Office advised that local law enforcement agencies should only respond to ICE detainers when they are accompanied by a judicial warrant.
Federal law allows local officers to make civil immigration arrests only where, unlike in New York, state law permits such arrests. In July of 2017, Massachusetts’ highest court held in a similar case (Lunn v. Commonwealth) that Massachusetts law prohibits local law enforcement from making such arrests.
“Immigrant families in Suffolk County are living in constant fear of being separated from their loved ones,” said Irma Solis, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the NYCLU. “Local law enforcement should be protecting all of our communities, not tearing apart families.”
In addition to Wells, NYCLU staff on the case include associate legal director Christopher Dunn, senior staff attorney Molly Kovel, staff attorney Paige Austin and paralegal Maria Rafael.