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A decision last month by a federal judge in Illinois undercutting a major tool the federal government uses to deport criminal immigrants could ripple across the country, changing how local jails hold people thought to be in the country illegally.
On September 30, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee ruled that the Department of Homeland Security’s use of detainers — formal requests from federal immigration authorities for a local jail to hold non-citizen inmates — exceeds its legal authority.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally issues the requests when it thinks someone being held on local or state charges might also be deportable for violating the country’s immigration law. When it receives a detainer on one of its inmates, a local jail typically holds that person beyond the time it ordinarily would, usually 48 hours, giving federal authorities a chance to come get them.
Lee ruled that the detainers were “void” because “immigration detainers issued under ICE’s detention program seek to detain subjects without a warrant — even in the absence of a determination by ICE that the subjects are likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained.”
Lee's decision applies to Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin and some detainers issued in about two dozen more states, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center. But the ruling's impact could expand if it is upheld by appellate courts or spurs copycat lawsuits in other states.