Suffolk County has changed its policy on how its police hold immigrants wanted for deportation by the federal government. For years, it required a judge’s order to do that but now, its sheriff, Vincent Demarco, says they will honor those requests from the federal government without a judge’s order.
WSHU’s Jessica Opatich spoke with DeMarco about the county’s policy change and joined WSHU News Director Dan Katz to discuss what she learned. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Jess, what does this policy change mean?
Well, I asked the sheriff and he said the decision was made after a discussion with Homeland Security – which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement also known as ICE – and after talking to the county attorney. He told me that when he became sheriff in 2006, he invited ICE to have a presence at Suffolk’s correctional facilities and they used to hold anyone of interest to ICE until the ACLU got involved.
Sheriff DeMarco: In 2014 we received a letter from the ACLU citing two federal lawsuits that holding illegal immigrants solely on a detainer without a judicial warrant would cause us to be sued and there were two federal lawsuits that were won by immigrants. So I referred that to the county attorney who issued a legal opinion that said we should not hold anyone solely on a detainer without a judicial warrant.
Now, that really didn’t mean too much here for the residents in Suffolk County because we have ICE agents stationed at the correctional facility and they would still put detainers on people and they would still take people out of the facility that were wanted for deportation.
Now we fast forward to this year. In October of this year, I had a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security and they advised me that they had changed their detainer paperwork and their administrative warrant paperwork to include probable cause and that was what was cited in those two federal lawsuits, a lack of probable cause to hold somebody without a judicial warrant. I forward that to the county attorney because it was my opinion that this was sufficient and he concurred.
So now if ICE were to ask us to hold onto somebody for 48 hours after the time they would otherwise be released, we can do that without the taxpayers of Suffolk County having any liability.
How closely does the sheriff’s office work with ICE?
Well, I asked him and he said they actually have an office in the correctional facility with access to whatever inmate information they might need.
Sheriff DeMarco: Federal ICE agents have access to our jail management system so they can track the inmates they’re interested in and they can know when they’re going to court, what their release dates are, when they’re sentenced, when they’re going upstate – cause some inmates to get sentenced go upstate. That detainer will follow them up to a state prison and ICE can get them when they’re released from state prison. So we work very, very closely with them and we’re always trying to enhance our relationship.
The timing of this policy change comes just a month before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Did Sheriff DeMarco say anything about Mr. Trump’s promise to pull federal funding from places that don’t cooperate with ICE and whether that played a role in his decision?
Suffolk had been listed as a “sanctuary county” and since the policy change it has been taken off of the list created by the Center for Immigration Studies. But Sheriff DeMarco said he never considered Suffolk to be a sanctuary county and he didn’t think President-elect Trump would either. He said these changes were being discussed long before the reality of President Trump.
Sheriff DeMarco: My meeting with ICE was in October of this year well I think it was October 18 to be exact, and ICE revised their paperwork in September of this year and they did that in order to address the concerns some municipalities had if they were asked to hold someone for 48 hours to address the concerns in those federal lawsuits so this was all well before the election. And if you believe the media, at that point in September of this year I don’t think anybody gave Donald Trump a chance. I don’t think ICE changed their paperwork based on who was going to be president.
So what about the opposition to this policy change?
The Suffolk County Chapter of the NYCLU is upset about this. They see it as a loss of constitutional rights to due process. You know, it’s been kind of blurry for the last few years as to whether or not Suffolk should be considered a sanctuary municipality. And with this policy change to honor ICE detainers without a warrant from a judge, it’s now clear that it isn't.