Join The Times' book club. This month's selection: "Cadillac Desert"
Opinion Editorial

L.A., rightly, says 'no' to Washington on immigrant detainees

Los Angeles is right to ignore federal immigration requests to hold inmates past their release
City of Los Angeles joins others in rebuffing federal practice that infringes on due process rights

Citing a recent federal court ruling in Oregon that the practice infringes on constitutional protections, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday announced that the city of Los Angeles will no longer honor federal "detainer letter" requests to hold people suspected of being in the country illegally for potential deportation. The ruling, and similar dominoes-like responses by local governments, are proper, and affirm a basic civil liberty: the right to due process.

This is how the letters work: Local police arrest someone on suspicion of committing a crime, and the basic information on the arrest and the suspect's fingerprints are sent to the FBI and on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be run through its database. In theory, immigrants in the country illegally get flagged, and ICE sends a letter asking the local agency to hold the detained person for up to 48 hours after he or she would otherwise be released — on bond, or simply because police decided not to pursue the initial arrest — to give federal agents time to take custody.

The problem, though, is that there is no probable cause to continue holding the person, and no court order, just suspicions raised by a database check.

Garcetti said Monday that city police will detain people for potential deportation only if the federal request has been approved by a judge. Police Chief Charlie Beck said the new policy would not lead to criminals being released back into the community, and that it could enhance public safety by building trust between immigrant communities and the police.

Maybe. But the underlying issue here isn't about crime. It's about due process, and unlawful detention. In the Oregon case, Maria Miranda-Olivares was held in jail despite a bail order, and again after she had served a short jail sentence for violating a restraining order. She sued, and a federal judge ruled in April that Clackamas County, which detained her without a court order, could be held civilly liable for constitutional breaches that arose from honoring an ICE detainer letter.

So in addition to the constitutional principles, local governments now have a liability incentive to ignore ICE detention requests. And they should. More than 100 local governments already have announced variations of the policy to refuse the requests, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. And now add the city of Los Angeles.

ICE should take all those "no's" for an answer and discontinue the detainer letters altogether. Sacrificing constitutional protections for the sake of bureaucratic expediency is unacceptable, and Los Angeles and the other jurisdictions are right in deciding not to take part.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Merits of ballot initiatives best left in hands of voters

    Merits of ballot initiatives best left in hands of voters

    The wonderful thing about California's direct democracy process is that any citizen with an idea and $200 can propose a new law for the statewide ballot.

  • Choosing between Big Brother and the Bill of Rights

    Choosing between Big Brother and the Bill of Rights

    Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, there was a seismic shift in the U.S. Congress. As the Senate deadlocked over what to do about several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, it became clear that political momentum had moved away from surveillance and secrecy toward freedom and privacy.

  • In Supreme Court redistricting case, it's the 'whole number of persons'

    In Supreme Court redistricting case, it's the 'whole number of persons'

    The Supreme Court agreed to take a case this week that will shape the future of American politics. Although the Warren court's famous "one person, one vote" mandate requires states to draw up election districts with roughly equal populations, the court is only now going to determine the relevant...

  • Pass the vaccination bill

    Pass the vaccination bill

    The vaccination debate has reached fever pitch. Legislation has passed in the state Senate that would do away with the "personal belief exemption" that allows parents in California to refuse to vaccinate their children. As it moves to the Assembly, opponents are ratcheting up their rhetoric, calling...

  • L.A. labor leaders' hypocrisy on minimum wage hike

    L.A. labor leaders' hypocrisy on minimum wage hike

    No, employers with a unionized workforce should not be allowed to pay less than Los Angeles' proposed minimum wage. It's stunning that after leading the fight for a $15 citywide minimum wage and vehemently opposing efforts to exempt restaurant workers, nonprofits and small businesses from the full...

  • A specious argument for doing nothing on Patriot Act

    A specious argument for doing nothing on Patriot Act

     Many critics of the federal government’s collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans – the most troubling invasion of privacy revealed by Edward Snowden – are hopeful that the Senate will vote Sunday to end the program. It could do so by approving the grandiosely titled USA Freedom...