Shortly after the president's inauguration, the Trump administration announced a directive expanding which immigrants would be prioritized for deportation and calling for more partnerships with local law enforcement to make that happen. The administration also put out a plan to shame those agencies that didn't comply.
For a few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security published a Declined Detainer Report, highlighting jurisdictions that refused to honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep people who have been booked into local jails longer because ICE suspected they are subject to deportation. The reports, some of which contained errors, were quickly criticized by sheriffs and halted, but the administration's effort to extend the reach of immigration enforcement through local jails didn't end there. The use of immigration detainers is rising nationwide—including in Durham.
Although the Durham County Detention Facility doesn't directly partner with ICE through its 287(g) program and has waffled on whether it participates in another program, known as Secure Communities, that facilitates so-called ICE holds, the Sheriff's Office is receiving more detainer requests than in recent years, and more people are ending up in ICE custody.
According to information provided by Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs, fifty-seven people were taken directly into ICE custody after being issued detainer requests while they were at the Durham jail in 2017, up from forty-nine in 2016 and thirty-two in 2015.
A detainer request is essentially a request from ICE that a jail hold a person booked on local charges for up to forty-eight hours after those charges have been adjudicated so that ICE can assume custody. ICE typically learns that a potentially deportable person is in jail when fingerprints and other information taken at intake make their way up to federal databases. In North Carolina, jails send fingerprints to the State Bureau of Investigation so the SBI can check for outstanding charges; the state's database is linked with FBI records.
ICE touts the practice as a way to identify and apprehend immigrants who pose a public safety threat. But immigrant rights advocates—and some judges—have raised questions about the constitutionality of detainers because they let local officials hold people beyond when they would have ordinarily been released.
Last year, a Texas judge ruled that the Bexar County sheriff violated a man's Fourth Amendment rights by holding him on a detainer after criminal charges were dismissed. In July, Massachusetts's highest court ruled that neither state nor federal law gives local officials authority to enforce immigration detainers. Multiple courts have said detainers amount to a new arrest requiring probable cause under the Fourth Amendment.
According to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the number of detainer requests sent to the Durham jail had already surpassed totals for 2015 and 2016 by July 2017.
The numbers are still significantly lower than during the Obama administration, but after years on the decline, the recent uptick represents a reversal that is taking place across the county.
Detainer usage peaked around 2011 and took a significant dip after 2014, when the Obama administration prioritized for deportation only people who had been convicted of serious or repeated crimes. The decrease played out locally as well. In 2010, the Durham jail received 291 detainer requests, about five times as many as it got in 2015, according to TRAC. Most people held under detainer requests at the Durham jail were originally from Mexico or Central America, while a few were from African countries.
According to TRAC, detainer use was on the rise nationally before Trump was elected, but it's sharply increased since his inauguration. More detainers were issued in July 2017 than in any month since November 2013.
However, it's unclear how many of those requests result in a person being taken into ICE custody. ICE had previously released that information to TRAC via Freedom of Information Act requests, but under the Trump administration a range of basic details about ICE holds is being withheld. ICE is withholding whether the subjects of detainer requests have a criminal history, their age group, and their most serious past conviction. TRAC is suing for the release of that information.
Nitin Goyal, a Durham-based immigration attorney, says he has observed no increase in the number of calls he gets from potential clients with ICE holds at the Durham jail—one about every two weeks. But, he says, "they're always honored."
"I've never heard of them not being honored," says Goyal, who opened his practice about a year and a half ago. Generally, Goyal says, people are booked in Durham (often for driving while impaired), issued an ICE hold, and taken to Wake County, which takes part in the federal 287(g) program that allows local officials to carry out immigration enforcement. From there, they are quickly moved to the privately run Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, where most immigration detainees from this state are taken. A recent Homeland Security report identified delayed medical care, unhygienic conditions, and misuse of solitary confinement at the facility.
"What Durham needs is to stop honoring these detainer requests," Goyal says. "The city council is passing all these resolutions about helping immigrants and refugees, but they're doing absolutely nothing on the ground to help."
Indeed, Gibbs says "all detainers are honored at the DCDF."
According to Gibbs, when the jail receives a request to hold a detainee, an immigration officer interviews that person and the person is held until he or she is released to ICE, sent to another county, or released by a judge. Gibbs says federal officials do not disclose the reason for the detainer to the Sheriff's Office.
In 2015, of fifty-five detainer requests, thirty-two resulted in the person being released into ICE custody. Thirteen detainees were released to other counties (in which case the ICE hold goes with them), and in ten cases the hold was canceled. The following year, seventy-two detainer requests were issued, forty-nine of which resulted in ICE taking custody. Eleven detainees were transferred to other counties, four holds were canceled, and in eight cases the detainees remain at the Durham jail.
Of the 114 holds issued last year, fifty-seven detainees were released into ICE custody, and another twenty-two were released to other counties. In twenty-seven cases, the subjects of detainer requests are still at the Durham County jail, and in eight cases the detainer request was canceled.
As the INDY reported last summer ["Cut the ICE," June 21], eighteen-year-old Jairo Garcia del Cid was put into removal proceedings after ICE sent a detainer request for him to the Durham jail. Garcia del Cid, who fled gang violence in El Salvador, had been booked at the jail on a larceny charge and was kept there for two days after the district attorney's office dismissed the case.
According to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, Garcia del Cid was ordered removed from the country in November. Ten months after being arrested by Durham police, he is still being held at Stewart Detention Center.