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Nassau County police end policy of holding immigrants for ICE deportation

Lt. Richard LeBrun is the Nassau County Police

Lt. Richard LeBrun is the Nassau County Police Department's chief spokesman. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Nassau police will no longer detain immigrants eligible to be released from custody but who are sought by federal authorities for deportation, county officials told a court last week, ending a lawsuit challenging the controversial policy.

Law enforcement officials said the department stopped implementing the policy of holding foreign-born arrestees on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers in late 2018 in response to a court ruling in Suffolk County. Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder issued an internal administrative order rescinding the policy on Jan. 3, records show.

But county attorneys waited until March 4 — two days before they were scheduled to defend the policy in a Brooklyn appellate court — to announce that it had officially withdrawn the policy. This change does not apply to judiciary immigration warrants issued by courts.

Critics of the policy said the measure discouraged law-abiding immigrants who were subject to deportation from cooperating with law enforcement.

"This decision was years in the making," said Elise de Castillo, executive director of Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit in Hempstead that challenged the county's policy. "This decision brings Nassau one step closer to being safer, not just for immigrants, but for everyone."

Ryder said the department changed its policy in December 2018 after a decision by the New York New York State Appellate Division and an internal review of Nassau police procedures.

"We will continue to work with our federal partners during multi-jurisdictional investigations as we continue to reduce crime. The Police Department continues to work with our residents to create trust and respect which will ultimately enhance positive community relationships which is important to building bridges with our neighbors," Ryder said.

Since 2007, county police officers have run database queries on individuals that they arrest and held them for up to 48 hours if they were being sought by ICE. Some of those individuals, including those held on minor traffic offense or who were cleared of criminal charges, were transferred to ICE custody and deported to their home country, immigrant advocates said. 

The suit was filed in 2017 on behalf of the Central American Refugee Center and a 26-year-old Salvadoran woman, identified only as Jane Doe, who said two close friends were deported based on unlawful arrests.

Staff and students at the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra University's School of Law assisted with in the case. The Trump administration's Department of Justice filed a legal brief supporting the county's policy.

The suit argued that Policy 3610 was unlawful because it contradicts state law, which says “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 noted that one individual who was pulled over for failing to use his turn signal, which is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor, was arrested, turned over to ICE and deported.

"The law was absolutely not on the county's side," said Alexander Holtzman, director of Hofstra's Deportation Defense Clinic. "Nassau police saw this and decided to end its policy."

In November 2018 the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court upended Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco's policy of detaining for up to 48 hours any person who was subject to an ICE warrant. DeMarco announced the policy one month after the election of President Donald Trump. Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon, who succeeded DeMarco in January 2018, later issued a directive ending the practice.

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