Hennepin County stops honoring federal requests to hold detainees

Elected officials and some immigrant advocacy groups have applauded the change.

by Marion Renault

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek announced earlier this month that his office will no longer honor federal requests to hold immigrant inmates without judicial authority.

After talks with advocacy groups and push from local elected officials, law enforcement officials will stop complying with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold prisoners with potential immigration issues for 48 hours past their normal release time.

Shortly after Stanek’s announcement, Ramsey County officials followed suit.

The two counties were issued with more than 2,200 detainers by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement between October 2011 and August 2013, according to Syracuse University TRAC data, which is about 50 percent of holds issued by the ICE in Minnesota over that time.

“This definitely lights some hope in us to keep moving forward,” said Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, director of the advocacy and community engagement program NAVIGATE MN.

Of the 36,000 inmates  the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office sees annually, less than 2 percent have an ICE hold placed on them, Stanek said in a June 11 press release.

University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans associate clinical professor Linus Chan said federal ICE officials frequently issue detainers when fingerprints and information gathered during an arrest — data that’s then sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — raise any red flags or suggest an arrestee is undocumented.

Some recent lawsuits have surfaced saying that local law enforcement offices across the country allegedly held detainees on ICE holds after they were cleared of any charges, according to a May letter sent to Hennepin County by the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Minnesota, more than half of ICE detainers are issued against individuals who haven’t been convicted of an offense, according to data from the Syracuse University TRAC program.

According to TRAC, it is common for ICE holds to be placed on those who have committed minor crimes, like traffic violations and marijuana possession.

University Spanish and global studies senior Julia Potach, who’s currently working for the American Civil Liberties Union, said though Hennepin County’s recent policy change stemmed from advocacy work, it could have been a measure to cut down on costs and liability.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter so much what the reason was that they stopped honoring them,” she said. “Either way, it’s a big win.”

With the change, the Twin Cities joins other major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago that have also stopped honoring the ICE detainers.

Chan said the move could help bridge a gap in trust between local law enforcement officials and the city’s large Somali and Hispanic immigrant populations.

Though some advocacy groups in Minnesota consider the policy change a victory, they are fast to note it’s just a step in the longer path for immigrant rights. Gonzalez Avalos said she and others are planning events like a parade at the end of the month to raise awareness and to push legislators to consider further immigration reform.

“We’ve got to start thinking about local solutions while the federal government agrees on a federal, long-lasting comprehensive solution for immigrant families,” she said.

In a press release shortly following Hennepin County’s announcement, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges lauded the Sheriff’s department.

“Our immigrant communities have helped our city thrive,” she said in the release. “We owe it to them to ensure that those who are law-abiding, tax-paying contributors to our communities don’t live in fear of a parking ticket and are able to seek help from our police without fear of deportation.”