Roni Amit of the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra Law...

Roni Amit of the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra Law School announces a lawsuit against the Nassau County Police Department on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. Credit: Johnny Milano

Immigration-rights advocates filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the Nassau County Police Department’s policy of detaining immigrants sought by federal authorities for deportation.

The policy in question “is unlawful” because it contradicts New York State law, according to the complaint filed against the county in state court.

The legal argument stems from the department’s policy of running database queries on people it arrests and holding for up to 48 hours immigrants sought by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the federal agency’s administrative requests, instead of requiring warrants issued by judges.

Under state criminal procedure law, the suit contends, “an officer is only allowed to make a warrantless arrest if there is reasonable cause to believe that a crime is being or has been committed.” Being in the country illegally “is not a crime because it is neither a felony nor misdemeanor,” the complaint says.

The suit was filed in Supreme Court in Mineola on behalf of a 26-year-old immigrant woman, identified only as Jane Doe, and the Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit in Hempstead. Assisting with the suit are staff and law students at the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra Law School.

The policy puts fear in the hearts of otherwise law-abiding immigrants who are subject to deportation, those behind the suit say.

“We are challenging the Nassau County Police Department’s policy of cooperating with ICE, following the arrest of foreign-born individuals,” said Roni Amit, clinical fellow of the Deportation Defense Clinic.

“As a result” of the policy, she added, “any interaction with the police can lead to contact with ICE, even if there’s no initial grounds to suspect the individual, other than the fact that he or she is foreign-born. This means that even the most routine police encounters, including traffic stops, can result in unlawful detentions at the request of ICE.”

The complaint does not specify whether Jane Doe was detained under the NCPD policy.

But dozens of advocates had protested outside police and county headquarters in August, after an immigrant stopped by police over a traffic matter was held by the department and handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which deported him to El Salvador.

County Attorney Carnell Foskey said the county does not comment “on matters of litigation.” But a police spokesman issued a statement explaining the policy.

“Regardless of a person’s legal status, all persons in Nassau County are required to abide by the local, state and federal laws currently in effect. The Nassau County Police Department will not inquire into any person’s immigration status unless they are arrested for a crime. This includes the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and anyone who calls the police seeking assistance,” said Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun of the Nassau police’s public information office.

Suffolk County agencies also detain immigrants sought by ICE and is named in a separate federal lawsuit filed in August by advocacy group LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Winston & Strawn law firm on behalf of an immigrant. ICE declined a request for comment Monday.

Immigrant advocates say local cooperation with deportation policies under President Donald Trump undermines community relations in both counties.

“So often immigrants see police as an extension of ICE, a fear that is justified when police work hand in hand with ICE in enforcing federal immigration policies,” said Elise Damas, citizenship program director at the Central American Refugee Center. “This fear causes immigrants to fear contact with police, to include reporting crimes. When immigrants don’t report crimes, our Long Island communities become less safe” for everyone.

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