Monday, June 05, 2017

Accountability Misplaced

On the winning and wrong side of the issue, the ACLU on March 4, 2014 explained

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today ruled that states and localities are not required to imprison people based on "detainer" requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE, recognizing that states and localities may share liability when they participate in wrongful immigration detentions. The ruling in Galarza v. Szalczyk, et al., stems from Lehigh County Prison’s wrongful detention of Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen, who despite posting bail and telling his jailers that he was born in New Jersey was held in jail for three days because of an ICE detainer that stated only that ICE was investigating his immigration status. 

Mr. Galarza’s complaint alleges that the detainer was issued based on his race, without any valid basis to believe that he was a removable non-citizen. The Third Circuit’s decision recognized that because ICE detainers are non-binding requests, Lehigh County can be held legally responsible for imprisoning Mr. Galarza for three days on this basis.

The notion that detainers are mere requests and non-binding is ludicrous, whether applied to immigration or anything else. Putting the burden upon local jurisdictions for confirming the validity of warrants issued by the federal government- an outrageous concept- has understandably made local jursidictions skittish about providing any information to Immigration Customs Enforcement. The federal government should be held accountable.

The ruling has encouraged enactment by cities, states and counties of "sanctuary" status, which can take various forms.  In its most extreme (and unwise) form, the city of San Francisco "prohibits municipal employees from using 'any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or to gather or disseminate information regarding release status of individuals.'” Far more wisely, Sonoma County "merely maintains an unwritten rule that sheriffs’ deputies not go out of their way to inquire about, or act upon, immigration status."

Two of the three judges sitting in 2014 in federal court in Philadelphia struck a blow against cooperation among law enforcement authorities, and imposed unnecessary and potentially devastating liability against localities, making the latter responsible for errors made by the federal government.

It gave ICE a free pass and they mean to make the most of it. That appears at least to be the case in New Jersey, where

State lawmakers are convening a public hearing Monday on the practice of federal immigration officials arresting undocumented immigrants during routine appearances at New Jersey courthouses, a practice that has drawn scrutiny around the country. 

The state Assembly judiciary committee will take testimony from lawyers, civil liberties groups and advocates for immigrants and victims of domestic violence, according to Assemblyman John McKeon, the committee's chairman.

The hearing comes more than a month after the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Stuart Rabner, wrote a letter to federal Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly objecting to the arrests of immigrants at courthouses in Passaic and Middlesex counties by officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

"When individuals fear that they will be arrested for a civil immigration violation if they set foot in a courthouse, serious consequences are likely to follow," Rabner wrote.

Surely, the federal government, her as pertaining to immigration control and enforcement, should accomodate the chief justice of a state's high court. Alas, not so, for

Federal officials have shown no signs of backing down, arguing courthouse arrests are necessary because ICE's targets often live in the shadows under aliases and without regular employment, making a courthouse the safest option for law enforcement to take them into custody. 

"The safest option for law enforcement to take" are the words of the reporter from NJ Advance Media, rather than of ICE. With security precautions such as metal detectors in place in county courthouses, the counties have done much of the work for the feds, allowing them to make arrests with relative ease.  Still, if the officers are armed, something other than their own safety should determine departmental strategy.  It's what law enforcement is about; if urban police officers focused their attention on pleasant, crime-free neighborhoods rather than the most dangeous areas of town, little impact can be made.

Six weeks ago, the governor of New Jersey- as can always be expected- came in on the wrong side as

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and staunch Trump ally, said it was inappropriate for Rabner to weigh in on the contentious issue. State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, himself a Cuban immigrant, said ICE's use of court appearances to make arrests "promotes fear and dissuades undocumented immigrants from coming forward to report crimes or to assist the criminal justice system."

Of course it does.  Victims will not come forward. Witnesses will not come forward. Defendants will less often come forward, resulting in issuance by the Judge of a warrant, jacking up costs for the county or state government. Both local law enforcement and the judicial system will suffer.

Courage is needed. That includes ICE, which should continue workplace raids and not courthouse raids. However, it includes also Chief Justice Rabner, whom the chairman of the Assembly committee says has refused to testify. (The unrelated video below is from December, 2015.)

That is not only wrong, but foolish. Sometimes a judge is inadvertently, and unavoidably, dragged into a political issue, and in this case the judge's viewpoint is not only necessary but judicious. Without a pushback, the federal government- as in Galarz v. Szalczyk- will never have to acknowlege that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government with cooperation, not assistance, of other levels of government.

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