Across the country, local authorities have become increasingly reluctant to detain people arrested on unrelated charges for longer than 48 hours at the request of federal agents to allow time to investigate their immigration status.
Some local officials, including in some New Mexico counties, say that honoring the so-called “immigration holds” puts them at risk of lawsuits.
But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the refusal to honor them poses a threat to public safety because people facing serious criminal charges who previously would have been taken into federal custody and potentially subjected to deportation proceedings are being released into communities. Federal immigration authorities say thousands have been released from jails nationally this year alone, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.
Last spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled that immigration detainer requests are just that – requests – and local authorities are not bound to honor them and could be held civilly liable for unwarranted detentions.
In Bernalillo County, the Metropolitan Detention Center continues to honor ICE detention requests but only when certain conditions are met, such as when an inmate has a criminal record with a felony conviction or two misdemeanor convictions, or is currently charged with a violent felony offense.
The county appears to be doing the right thing, but even if the national trend of local officials releasing felons may please advocates for immigrant rights, it does raise troubling questions about the safety of the communities into which some of these criminal immigrants are being released.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.