Wayne sheriff resists feds on turning over immigrants

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon has ordered his staff to deny requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to turn over immigrant inmates without an order signed by a federal judge or magistrate.

In an April 28 memo from Napoleon obtained by The Detroit News, the sheriff wrote: “Recent court decisions have raised Constitutional concerns regarding the enforcement of Immigration Detainer — Notice of Action (IDNA).

“As such, effective immediately members of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office shall not honor any IDNAs from (ICE), unless one of the following conditions is met: Written Judicial Determination of Probable Cause ... or a warrant from a Judicial Officer,” the memo said.

“Unless one of the two above conditions are met, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office will not honor IDNAs, and members shall not extend custody of an individual (inmate) beyond the original booking and detention periods of the original charge and bail,” Napoleon wrote.

The memo goes on to say inmates may be released to ICE agents “only when accompanied by a warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. An administrative warrant issued by an ICE official may not be used to detain a subject.”

Napoleon did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Detroit ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said he wanted to delay commenting about the memo “until we’ve had a chance to fully review the (Wayne County) policy.”

Critics called Napoleon’s edict an attempt to stonewall efforts by federal agents to deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. Others applauded the order, saying it will prevent violations of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits detention without probable cause.

ICE generally issues 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.

At least eight federal judges since 2014 have ruled 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. The rulings have been in federal districts that don’t cover Michigan.

Last year, Illinois U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee ruled that ICE’s requests for local jails to hold non-citizen inmates exceeded the agency’s legal authority. In his ruling, Lee wrote that ICE detainers are void because “immigration detainers issued under ICE’s detention program seek to detain subjects without a warrant — even in the absence of a determination by ICE that the subjects are likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained.”

Michigan Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said the rulings are the work of “judges who are finding fault with federal law any way they possibly can so they can defy the federal government.”

Runestad, who last year introduced a bill that would require more transparency when placing refugees into communities, called Napoleon’s memo “one more attempt to skirt the laws, and keep people who are here illegally, in order to placate various special interest groups, and not worrying about the concerns of the American people. They’re using every trick in the book to not enforce federal law.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig told The News he disagrees with Napoleon’s edict — “but he’s the sheriff, and the jail is his territory,” Craig said. “But I don’t agree with violent criminals who are undocumented being released to the community.”

“I’m sworn to uphold the law, whether it’s local, state or federal,” Craig said. “Immigration is never the primary focus of a Detroit police investigation. However, when we make an arrest and fingerprint someone, there’s an automatic notification to federal authorities. We have and will comply and cooperate with federal authorities.”

Detroit activist Elena Herrada, who works to ensure immigrants’ rights are upheld, said Napoleon was pushed to adopt the policy by several pro-immigrant groups.

“He was under a lot of pressure from the ACLU and other groups, who met with the sheriff to make that (policy) happen,” Herrada said. “A lot of the (immigrant Wayne County Jail inmates) were picked up on traffic violations. There have been ICE agents hanging around schools, near construction sites and other places trying to (arrest and deport immigrants).”

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Napoleon’s memo concludes: “The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work with all state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, and will continue to provide professional service to the citizens of Wayne County, regardless of their immigration status.”


(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN