Federal appeals court finds ICE hold was not mandatory in Allentown case

Crowds of immigrants protest in favor of comprehensive immigration reform on West side of Capitol Hill in Washington

Credit: Reuters

In an example of a policy that will be examined at a City Council hearing next week, a hold under the authority of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was found to be improper in a federal appeals court ruling released today.

Ernesto Galarza, a US citizen residing in Allentown, was detained in Lehigh County prison back in 2008 after the contractor at a construction site where he worked sold cocaine to an undercover detective, and police arrested the contractor, Galarza and two other workers at the site.

Despite having his Social Security card and driver’s license, Galarza was detained for three days in prison as part of a routine ICE hold to determine whether he was in violation of federal immigration laws.

Lawyers from the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argued that ICE was only notified about Galarza due to his Hispanic name.

But at trial in Allentown, municipal attorneys argued that once ICE was identified, mistake or no, the city had no choice but to detain Galarza, as they considered ICE detainer orders mandatory.

Instead, a three-judge federal appeals court ruled that ICE detainer requests are not mandatory.

“Immigration detainers do not and cannot compel a state or local law enforcement agency to detain suspected aliens subject to removal,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrote.

After Galarza’s bail was posted hours after he was arrested, he was told he could not leave due to the immigration detainer.

Three days later, after speaking with two ICE officers and giving them his Social Security number, Galarza was released from the jail.

Galarza was acquitted of criminal charges related to his arrest in 2010.

ICE holds take place when local police notify immigrations enforcement that they have encountered someone who may be an immigrant subject to deportation, and hold that person until they can be transferred to ICE custody.

“We think there are pretty significant constitutional problems with local law enforcement lending this kind of assistance to ICE,” said attorney Molly Tack-Hooper.

The decision might have implications for Philadelphia, as both cities are within the Third Circuit’s jurisdiction.

Allentown, like Philadelphia, participates in a partnership with ICE whereby they share information about such individuals. But the Court of Appeals decision means that since such holds are not required, a city can be held liable for damages if an individual is detained in error.

“The taxpayers would have to pay for that mistake,” Tack-Hooper said.

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Follow Sam Newhouse on Twitter: @scnewhouse

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