July 22, 2024


It's the Technology

County Benchslapped For Illegally Detaining All Foreign-Born People For Pickup By ICE, Even If They’re American Citizens

from the don’t-be-evil dept

This is some kind of ugly. When law enforcement starts talking about being “proactive,” it’s time to start worrying about your rights. Here’s what happened to Myriam Parada after a routine traffic stop.

Parada ended up in the Anoka County Jail after an officer discovered that she had been driving without a license. While going through the booking process, she had to disclose her country of birth, which was Mexico. Even after deeming her “[r]eady for [r]elease,” Anoka County continued to hold her while a deputy contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.

That’s from the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court decision [PDF], which affirms Parada’s win in the lower court, over the inane and insane protestations of the county in Minnesota.

Instead of being free to go, Parada was subjected to an unofficial county policy — one that resulted in her being held at the jail for four hours before she was finally released. The policy can’t be found with the rest of the county policies because someone was smart enough to realize this unconstitutional bullshit probably shouldn’t be memoralized.

The delay was due to Anoka County’s “unwritten policy requiring its employees to contact ICE every time a foreign-born individual is detained, irrespective of whether the person is a U.S. citizen.” (Emphasis added). The way it works is simple: “If the individual [says] they were born abroad, the jail will send ICE a notification” and “attempt[] to wait to start release procedures . . . until [it] hear[s] back,” which “could take between 20 minutes and 6 hours.”

The Appeals Court says the lower court got this exactly right:

The district court’s conclusion was correct: Anoka County’s policy is a classic example of national-origin discrimination. On its face, it treats people differently depending on where they were born. […] Those born abroad must wait anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours longer while deputies consult ICE. For those born in the United States, by contrast, there is no call and release is immediate.

Anoka County suggested it was just trying to help out ICE by “giving ICE an opportunity” to investigate the legal status of arrestees without “burdening” ICE with “too many false positives.” The Appeals Court says the county’s interest may be “compelling,” but the judges follow that up with “we have our doubts about it.”

Even if this were a compelling law enforcement interest, it absolutely cannot be handled this way.

The bigger problem, however, is Anoka County’s scattershot approach to accomplishing its interest. By its own statistics, more than half of the foreign-born individuals it referred to ICE turned out to be American citizens. It is not hard to figure out why. For one thing, many who are born elsewhere will have already become American citizens. Consider a few examples. By the strict terms of the policy, it would apply to famous actors like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger—both long-time American citizens not to mention six former members of the United States Supreme Court.

The policy is also underinclusive: it will miss people who are American-born children of foreign diplomats or who have renounced their citizenship, like American-born Jews who have accepted sole citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return. The point is that Anoka County’s chosen means were not “specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish” its interest.

A better way to handle this would be literally anything else. Detainees could be asked about their citizenship status. Some sort of reasonable suspicion could be applied to the process for making ICE referrals. For a county that claims in court it did not want to “burden” ICE with too many “false positives,” it did exactly that more than half the time.

And the county can’t escape this lawsuit (one it has already lost) by asking for immunity. As the Appeals Court points out, the fact that the policy is “unwritten” means the county has already lost the statutory immunity argument.

On the surface, there seems to be little doubt that Anoka County’s unwritten policy was a planning-level decision. When individual employees later followed it, the challenge to their conduct became a challenge to the “policy itself,” meaning statutory immunity would normally apply.

But the normal rule takes a back seat when there is no evidence “to support [a] statutory[-]immunity claim.” Conlin, 605 N.W.2d at 402. As the Minnesota Supreme Court has put it, “[t]he burden is on the [County] to show it engaged in protected policy-making.” And here, Anoka County failed to produce any evidence about how it reached its decision, including whether it considered any “financial, political, economic, and social effects.” Under these circumstances, the consequences are clear: it is “not entitled to statutory immunity.”

The unconstitutional, unwritten policy is hopefully no longer not officially on the books. To put it more clearly, hopefully the staff at the Anoka County Jail is no longer illegally holding foreign-born arrestees solely for the purpose of allowing ICE to take a shot at them. The affirmed loss means the county owes Parada $30,000 for the wrongful detainment. But it also will be burdening residents with a much bigger bill: nearly $250,000 in legal fees headed to Parada’s representation. And that’s on top of whatever it blew on three attempts to get this ruling overturned. That’s a lot of money to spend on a policy so obviously discriminatory, even jail staff should have been aware of the potential downside.

Filed Under: 8th circuit, anoka county, citizens, detention, ice, minnesota