The campaign to undermine the use of detainers gained substantial momentum in February 2014, when Dan Ragsdale, then acting head of ICE, advised in response to an inquiry from a group of members of Congress on behalf of confused local law enforcement agencies, that “While immigration detainers are an important part of ICE’s effort to remove criminal aliens who are in federal, state, or local custody, they are not mandatory as a matter of law. As such, ICE relies on the cooperation of its law enforcement partners in this effort to promote public safety.”
Ragsdale’s move did not go unnoticed, including by jurists in the course of civil lawsuits filed by aliens and their pro bono attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and elsewhere, against ICE and against those state and local law enforcement agencies who honor the detainers. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that detainers were voluntary (overruling a district judge’s finding prior to Ragsdale’s policy change), thus permitting a civil suit against a county jail to go forward.
The adverse effect of these decisions, especially when combined with ICE’s indifference toward its partner agencies, began to accumulate. Various law enforcement agencies nationwide issued statements indicating they would decline compliance with some or all immigration detainers. The number has since risen to more than 300 police and sheriff’s departments. While some of these agencies are in small jurisdictions where law enforcement agencies encounter criminal aliens less frequently, others include major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and New York, where the number of aliens held in a year’s time reaches into the thousands.