A Latino advocacy group and a law firm are suing Suffolk County and federal officials and agencies, alleging that constitutional guarantees were violated when the county handed over an immigrant for deportation after he was charged in a DWI case.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Central Islip, takes aim at a policy of cooperation between Suffolk’s jail and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that acts to remove immigrants who are in the country illegally and/or have become subject to deportation because of criminal convictions.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Winston & Strawn law firm filed the complaint on behalf of Joaquin Orellana Castaneda, 34, an immigrant from Guatemala who was stopped for traffic infractions in Central Islip in April and booked on a DWI-related arrest. He is being held at an ICE detention facility in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Sheriffs in both Suffolk and Nassau counties honor detainer requests from ICE, administrative forms that the agency uses to ask that inmates be held at local jails for up to 48 hours so that the agency can apprehend them. The arrangement has been criticized by advocates, who say immigrants shouldn’t be held for the federal agency without a judge’s order.
The filing labels Suffolk’s acceptance of detainers “an unconstitutional scheme” that sidesteps requirements of probable cause and due process in both the U.S. Constitution and the New York Constitution.
“Detainers are nothing more than a piece of paper,” said Jose L. Perez, deputy general counsel with LatinoJustice, a Manhattan-based nonprofit with an office in Central Islip.
Treating ICE requests as warrants is the equivalent of allowing a police department to authorize and perform actions that require judicial review, he said.
“So do the police do that?” Perez asked. “No, if they have information or evidence, they go to a court, present it to a judge and the judge, an independent fact-finder, will then determine, ‘Is there probable cause or sufficient evidence?’ ”
The decision could set precedent in the Eastern District, which includes Nassau and Suffolk counties and Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in New York City. It also could affect decisions in a Circuit Court jurisdiction that extends to the rest of New York state, Connecticut and Vermont, Perez said.
The legal complaint, filed July 18, names several agencies and officials, including County Executive Steve Bellone and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, as well as the county and the sheriff’s office they represent.
Others named as defendants are the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE and those agencies’ top officials.
Representatives of the agencies said they could not comment on a pending legal matter.
Joanne F. Talbot, a spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees ICE, said: “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Jason Elan, a spokesman for Bellone, said, “We are reviewing the complaint.”
Suffolk Chief Deputy Sheriff Michael Sharkey confirmed only that Orellana Castaneda “had been in our custody, based on a Suffolk County Police Department arrest for DWI” and that “he was discharged to ICE.”
In a December interview with Newsday, DeMarco defended the practice of honoring ICE requests as “good public policy because it focuses on criminals” or people who entered the country illegally and already are in jail. Immigrant advocates have protested against local agencies becoming arms of federal immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump’s aggressive deportation agenda.
Immigrant detentions have been challenged in multiple states, and decisions have favored constitutional safeguards, said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an associate professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who studies the intersection of immigration and criminal justice issues.
“The constitutional arguments that are being raised in Mr. Orellana Castaneda’s case very much resemble the constitutional challenges that have been successful in other cases throughout the country,” García Hernández said.
The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. Were those awarded, García Hernández said it could have an impact beyond Suffolk County, creating “an enormous incentive” to modify policies “because it opens the local governments to financial liability — and money talks.”