Monday, April 7, 2014

Immigration Law: Understanding ICE Holds

By Maj Vasigh

The federal government’s most cost-effective method of detecting unlawful aliens in the United States is the use of what are commonly called “ICE holds.” These ICE holds, or detainers, are used to investigate, arrest, and eventually remove suspected illegal aliens from the United States. The process is cost-effective because the real work is basically outsourced to local police departments and county jails across the country.

How does this work? Brace yourself for acronyms. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Bureau of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is in charge of removing unlawful aliens. ICE ERO assigns officers to the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) to coordinate with local jails in support of their objective. In Hillsborough County, the CAP office is in downtown Tampa.

Ostensibly, the federal government’s objective is to detain and remove “criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety.” The practical analysis of who qualifies as a “criminal” is questionable. A study by Syracuse University found that in 2012, 48 percent of individuals targeted by immigration detainers nationwide had no prior criminal conviction.

A common hypothetical? Officer Farva arrests Juan for having no valid driver’s license, a traffic misdemeanor. Juan is booked and processed into Orient Road Jail and is issued a standard $250 bond. Because Juan doesn’t have a social security number, a jail employee notifies a Tampa ERO CAP officer, who in turn issues the detainer and interviews Juan, without the presence of counsel. Juan is determined to be an undocumented immigrant, and the removal process is started.

What happens after the hold is issued? Jail deputies in central booking frequently refuse to accept cash bonds, incorrectly advising family members that they cannot post bond due to the ICE hold. Judges sometimes misunderstand the law on ICE holds as well, everyone operating under a false assumption that an ICE hold is indefinite and infallible.

There is a way to get your client out expeditiously. The bond can be posted, and in many, although certainly not all situations, bond should be posted sooner rather than later. Once bond is paid, this triggers a 48-hour deadline by which ICE must take custody of the defendant. If ICE does not take custody within 48 hours, excluding weekends or holidays, the jail must release the defendant from their custody. There are literally no exceptions to this requirement.

Obtaining counsel immediately after the arrest stage is crucial. ICE generally transports unlawful immigrants to the Krome detention facility in Miami, where they will be held without bond. A faster, more economical approach is to begin advocating for your client pre-detention. ICE officers have the discretion to release a defendant on his own recognizance; counsel simply needs to give them the right reasons to justify doing it. With a congressional mandate to fill 37,000 beds nightly in detention centers across the country, be advised, it won’t be easy.