September 26, 2013

Download a sample of the letters that were sent to local police agencies

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, Communications Director, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555;

Susana Flores, CASA de Maryland, 240-706-2624, 

TAKOMA PARK, MD - Drawing attention to a recent federal court ruling holding that state and local law enforcement officials may not arrest or detain an individual based solely on a civil immigration warrant, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and CASA de Maryland (CASA) have written to police departments across the state urging them to implement changes to policies and practices that do not currently comply with the decision. In their letter, the organizations offer assistance in crafting policies that comply with the law and urge law enforcement agencies to notify their members of the change. 

"This decision confirms what immigrants' rights advocates have been saying all along: that local law enforcement should not be attempting to enforce civil immigration laws," said Sirine Shebaya, attorney directing the ACLU of Maryland's immigrants' rights advocacy. "Public safety is undermined when immigrants fear going to the police when they are victims of crime because so many have been incarcerated, separated from their children, and deported after local law enforcement have arrested them based on nothing more than an ICE hit. We are thrilled that the Fourth Circuit has clearly ruled against these practices and we urge police departments in Maryland to immediately take steps to reform their immigration enforcement practices in light of this decision." 

The federal court ruling comes in a case from Frederick County, where in 2008, a Latino woman was arbitrarily accosted while eating her lunch near a pond outside her workplace by deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. They questioned her about her immigration status, arrested her, and placed her in detention, where she remained for forty-six days separated from her one-year-old child. That incident has been echoed countless times across the country, as local police officers waste valuable law enforcement resources and improperly arrest individuals based on nothing more than suspicions about their immigration status. 

"As the enforcement of immigration law by local police has grown in recent years, the community's trust has eroded and local law enforcement is increasingly perceived as the enemy rather than defender," said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland.  "This federal decision should be understood by local law enforcement as an invitation to reexamine all of its policies regarding immigration enforcement and create solutions that retain community trust and thereby improve safety."

Under the Fourth Circuit ruling in Orellana Santos v. Frederick County, state and local law enforcement officials lack the legal authority to stop, detain, search, or arrest any individual based solely on a warrant from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), unless they have specifically been deputized by ICE to do so. The court also ruled that municipalities are liable for damages arising out of unlawful arrests of this kind. In the aftermath of the court's decision, the ACLU and CASA expect that in the future, individual officers will also be liable for such arrests.  

Most police departments in Maryland routinely engage in this unlawful practice of stopping, arresting and detaining immigrants based solely on an outstanding civil immigration warrant. In the organizations' letter, law enforcement agencies are urged, if they have not done so already, to take steps to bring their departments into compliance with the law, inform all members of the department of the decision, and provide training on the proper application of the rule. 

As an example, the ACLU and CASA highlight a recent memorandum sent by Chief J. Thomas Manger to all members of the Montgomery County Police Department informing them of the Fourth Circuit decision and instructing them to stop arresting individuals solely on the basis of an ICE warrant.