Immigration ‘detainers’ are subject of federal court fights

Travis County Correctional Facility (Courtesy: TCSO)
An example of a slider door at Travis County Correctional Facility (TCSO Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As top Texas lawmakers push for a bill to limit so-called sanctuary policies in the state, some of the immigration issues in the bill remain the subject of challenges in federal court.

Last year, a federal judge in Illinois ordered immigration officials to get a warrant or more proof that a person is likely to flee before asking to hold a person in jail. In that case, court documents state Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to hold two men who were legally in the country.

Now, a bill in the Texas Senate could open counties up to lawsuits if they decide not to honor a detainer request from immigration officials. However, immigration attorney Jacqueline Watson says honoring a detainer could also open up a local government to a lawsuit because of cases like the one in Illinois.

“Ultimately the liability is going to lie with the county that is holding someone in violation of the U.S. Constitution,” said Watson.

But in a new letter, the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton disagrees. He believes the Illinois ruling will be reversed and that counties will be able to fight claims that they wrongfully held a suspect.

No matter what happens in the legislature, the broader question about the legality and constitutionality of “detainers” has yet to be decided on a national level.

“This almost without a doubt this will end up in front of the supreme court,” Watson said.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Office still honors detainers for suspects of certain violent crimes and when federal officials get warrants. After Travis County changed its policy, prosecutors filed more than 40 motions in federal court to detain suspects, according to spokesperson for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office Daryl Fields.

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