HARRISBURG – The Senate of Pennsylvania today passed legislation to force local governments to honor detention requests from federal immigration authorities, a move that the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said will inevitably lead to illegal detentions and costly litigation.
“We have effectively argued this issue in federal court,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Detainer requests from federal immigration authorities are not mandatory. If a local government holds someone in violation of their constitutional rights, that government can be held liable. And they will be.”
House Bill 1885 mandates municipal and county agencies to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold a person in custody for at least 48 hours. The bill enforces that mandate by withholding state grants for law enforcement and by holding local governments liable if a person has been released and later commits an injury to a person or property.
ICE detainer requests are issued by the agency itself and are not supported by a finding of probable cause or a court order. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has brought successful litigation on behalf of U.S. citizens who were illegally detained as a result of ICE detainers in Lehigh County and in Allegheny County. In the Lehigh County case, the ACLU of Pennsylvania represented Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen who was illegally held in the county prison for three days, and successfully argued before a federal appeals court that the county was liable for his detention.
“It is astonishing that the Senate thinks it can simply override a ruling of a federal appeals court,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “If this bill becomes law, local governments will learn the hard way what happens when they violate someone’s constitutional rights.”
According to a 2015 report from Temple University, 32 counties have policies to not honor ICE detainers, largely as a result of the decision in the Galarza case. Since the Temple report was published, Allegheny County also stopped honoring ICE requests, thanks to litigation brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania on behalf of Angelica Davila, a U.S. citizen who was held overnight in the county jail.
Because HB 1885 was amended in the Senate, it returns to the state House for a vote on the Senate’s changes.