Detroit – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center sent letters to all Michigan jails today clarifying the obligations of local law enforcement with regards to “immigration detainers,” requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold people in jail who would otherwise be released.

“Across Michigan, we hear similar complaints. Local jails aren’t familiar with the law on immigration detainers, and therefore jail people illegally,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU staff attorney. “Immigration is one of the most complicated areas of federal law. However, ICE asks our local law enforcement agencies to step in while offering them little training.”

Recently, ICE issued a new immigration detainer form, which clarifies some common misconceptions. Today’s letter is an attempt by the ACLU of Michigan and MIRC to further clarify the law and ensure that local law enforcement agencies do not infringe upon the legal rights of immigrants.

In their letter, sent to the sheriffs of Michigan’s 83 county jails and the Department of Corrections, the ACLU and MIRC explained how immigration detainers work, and what steps law enforcement agencies must take to follow the law. Specifically, the letter reminded the sheriffs that:

  • ICE detainers are valid for only 48 hours, excluding holidays and weekends. Under no circumstances should an individual be held by a local law enforcement agency on a detainer past the 48 hour deadline, the letter warned.
  • An immigration detainer does not indicate that an individual is in the U.S. unlawfully. In fact, in most cases, at the time ICE places the “hold,” an immigration judge has not had a chance to decide the case. Moreover, the ACLU and MIRC have received reports of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents being subjected to detainers, in part because detainers are sometimes issued based on a person’s place of birth.
  • In many cases, immigration detainers are costly to local law enforcement agencies, as the cost of detention is rarely reimbursed by the federal government.
  • An immigration detainer is a request, not an order or arrest warrant. Therefore the federal government cannot compel a local law enforcement agency to comply, and local law enforcement can decide whether to use local resources to pay for ICE detainers.

“We hope the letter will help law enforcement better understand their obligations and their rights,” said Susan Reed, MIRC lead attorney. “Local law enforcement agencies should use scarce resources to address crime and focus on building positive relationships with immigrant communities. “

In addition to Aukerman and Reed, the letter was signed by Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director.