Appeals court: Immigration detainers require probable cause

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An appeals court has ruled that federal immigration authorities need probable cause to issue an immigration detainer, a decision that comes amid a national debate over immigration enforcement that was sparked by a deadly shooting in San Francisco.

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed last year’s decision by a federal judge in Rhode Island, who found that a naturalized U.S. citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated when she was held on an immigration detainer.

The appeals court wrote it was “clearly established” and “beyond debate” that agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement need probable cause to arrest and detain someone in order to investigate their immigration status.

The San Francisco shooting was allegedly committed by a man in the country illegally who was released by local authorities despite a request from federal officials to keep him detained.

The Rhode Island case involves Ada Morales, who was born in Guatemala but became a U.S. citizen in 1995. Morales, who is represented by the ACLU, sued after she was detained twice, in 2004 and again in 2009.

After her 2009 arrest by state police in a benefits fraud case, Morales was ordered released from the state prison, but then held for a little more than 24 hours while immigration officials investigated whether she was in the country illegally. Morales says she told authorities she was a U.S. citizen.

The government has said the name on Morales’ naturalization certificate was Ada Amavilia Cabrera, and that it was her responsibility to change that when she got married.

Morales is suing officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

A spokeswoman for ICE did not address the decision when asked to comment on it, but said the agency is working to put in place a new initiative that prioritizes criminals and individuals who threaten public safety.

Jessica Vaughan, of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for tougher immigration enforcement, said her group believes that at the time of Morales’ arrest, a detainer constituted probable cause. She said the decision forces the administration to defend detainers.

More than 300 localities across the country have said they would not honor immigration detainers without a warrant, said Kate Desormeau, an ACLU staff attorney involved in the case.

In this case, the appeals court did not weigh in on whether a warrant is required to hold someone on a detainer, although that issue is being considered in other court cases, she said.

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