U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers recently arrested a Mexican man who was released from Philadelphia custody on three prior occasions, despite ICE detainers filed with local authorities each time. In addition to the ignored detainers, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office intervened on the alien’s behalf, writing a letter to an immigration judge, which was used as supporting evidence to help get the man released from ICE custody.
The 36-year-old Mexican national has had numerous encounters with local law enforcement and has been arrested at least six times since 2018, for offenses including simple assault, disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering another, aggravated assault, simple assault, possession of an instrument of a crime, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, robbery, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and failure to appear. Despite the man’s multiple run-ins with local law enforcement and his failure to appear for several hearings related to his criminal proceedings, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office wrote a letter to an immigration judge in York, PA, which was used as supporting evidence to help get him a favorable custody decision and ultimately released from ICE custody.
Despite the support provided by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, he was arrested again by the Philadelphia Police Department and was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, possession of an instrument of a crime and recklessly endangering another person and released from the Philadelphia officials custody, despite the presence of an ICE detainer.
“Cooperating with ICE is in the best interest of the residents of the city of Philadelphia,” said ICE ERO Philadelphia Deputy Field Office Director Gregory Brawley. “Releasing dangerous criminals, rather than safely transferring these individuals to ICE custody, negatively impacts public safety. Despite the city’s stance on detainers, this is the first case that we have seen the district attorney’s office inject itself into immigration removal proceedings. City officials have indicated that they do not want to be a part of immigration enforcement, and yet in this case, they go on record and write a letter to an immigration judge, to help get an individual released?”
Under federal law, ICE has the authority to lodge immigration detainers with law enforcement partners who have custody of individuals arrested on criminal charges and who ICE has probable cause to believe are removable aliens. The detainer form asks the other law enforcement agency to notify ICE in advance of release and to maintain custody of the alien for a brief period of time so that ICE can take custody of that person in a safe and secure setting upon release from that agency’s custody. Yet ICE says several jurisdictions across the United States refuse to honor detainers and instead choose to release criminal offenders back into their local communities where they are free to offend.
ICE adds that Congress has established no process, requirement, or expectation directing ICE to seek a judicial warrant from already overburdened federal courts before taking custody of an alien on civil immigration violations.
The issue of “sanctuary cities” has received heightened attention in light of ICE’s struggle with immigration retainers. Sanctuary jurisdictions don’t have an official definition, but generally refer to a state, county or city that tend to fall under “don’t enforce,” “don’t ask” or “don’t tell” policies when it comes to an agency’s relations with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Jurisdictions offer various reasons for such policies including potential civil liability or costs associated with assisting federal efforts and concerns that immigrant populations will cease to cooperate with local law enforcement out of fear. Jurisdictions have taken to court Trump administration executive actions intended to compel them to work with federal immigration enforcement, arguing that they’re unconstitutional.