Feds blast Washtenaw Co. for not detaining immigrant

George Hunter
The Detroit News

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials are criticizing Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies for refusing a request to detain an illegal Mexican immigrant who has been deported three times, and was convicted of grand larceny before being arrested in connection with another alleged crime.

Exal Morales Flores, 25, was arrested Tuesday by federal officials in Ann Arbor, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said, although Walls said his agency was unnecessarily forced to expend resources to catch him.

Earlier Tuesday, Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputies released Flores from the county jail after he posted bail, despite ICE’s request to hold him.

Walls said he’s not at liberty to disclose Flores’ most recent alleged crime that landed him in the Washtenaw County Jail, and directed questions to sheriff’s officials, who did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

“When a local law enforcement agency fails to honor an ICE detainer, individuals, who often have significant criminal histories are released into the community, presenting a potential public safety threat,” Walls said in a written statement. “ICE officers then have to locate these criminal aliens in the community, which is highly resource intensive.

“It’s not uncommon for criminal alien targets to utilize multiple aliases and provide authorities with false addresses,” Walls said. “Doing so could needlessly put ICE personnel and innocent bystanders in harm’s way.”

Federal records show Flores was most recently deported in 2010, after he was arrested in December 2009 near Columbus, New Mexico. Flores previously was sentenced to five years in prison following a grand larceny conviction in Oklahoma.

ICE officials usually issue detainer requests when agents think an inmate may be in violation of immigration laws. The requests ask police to hold the inmate, usually for 48 hours after they would normally have been released, to allow ICE agents to take them into federal custody.

The issue of ICE detainer requests has been a hot topic across the country in recent years, with at least eight federal judges since 2014 ruling that law enforcement officials who hold inmates beyond their normal sentences are in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Some of the federal rulings held that ICE detainers alone did not constitute probable cause, although the rulings have been in federal districts that don’t cover Michigan.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon issued a memo April 28 directing his staff not to hold jail inmates at ICE’s request, unless a federal judge or magistrate signs the order. Napoleon said the recent rulings prompted the memo, although he insisted it’s always been his policy to refuse detainer requests without a judge’s signature.

Susan Reed, managing attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, lauded Napoleon’s edict.

“This is really the first jurisdiction in Michigan to take such a significant step and have such a clear policy,” Reed said. “We are very pleased to see Wayne County clearly defining its policy about detainers, which are really problematic because they’re based on less than probable cause.”

Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning told The News last week it’s unclear whether the Constitution applies to people in the United States illegally.

“The application of the Fourth Amendment to undocumented aliens is not clear,” Henning said. “There is a legal basis to say an inmate can’t be held because of a detainer request, because the requests don’t constitute probable cause (as required by the Fourth Amendment).

“The question is: Does the Fourth Amendment apply to someone who is undocumented? That’s a gray area; it’s not cut and dry, which is why you have different jurisdictions doing different things. Of course, if you’re here legally, you get all the protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment,” Henning said. “If you’re undocumented, it’s not a settled issue.”

“As a general rule, there’s always a danger in defying the federal government, because federal authorities can take certain measures that are detrimental, like cutting off funding,” Henning said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN