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NYCLU challenges Suffolk sheriff on immigration detainers

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco stands in front of

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco stands in front of the Sheriffs Office in Riverhead on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Civil liberties advocates filed an emergency legal action in state court seeking the release of an immigrant held by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office — and questioning its policy of detaining immigrants sought by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

Arguments were heard in the case on Tuesday morning and a decision remained pending. The petition was filed late Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union against Suffolk Sheriff Vincent F. DeMarco in the Second Judicial Department of the New York Appellate Division in Brooklyn.

The suit seeks the release of Susai Francis, an immigrant from India and longtime Long Island resident, who had pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge and had been sentenced to time served.

Francis, the father of two sons, including one who is a U.S. citizen, was then held on a so-called “detainer request” — an administrative process ICE uses to ask local law enforcement agencies to hold any immigrant it seeks to remove from the country, after their arrest on criminal charges not related to their immigration status.

A ruling could affect the detention policy going forward, determining whether local jails could cooperate in such a way with immigration enforcement.

“When someone is free to go from local criminal court custody and you instead bring them back to a jail and put them in a cell, that is inarguably an arrest,” said Jordan Wells, a lawyer for the NYCLU. “There is no authority under state law for that kind of arrest.”

Chief Michael Sharkey of the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office did not comment on the case, other than to confirm that Francis had been in its custody. He cited legal advice from the Suffolk County attorney’s office for the detention policy. “The sheriff’s department does not make the law; we enforce the law,” Sharkey said.

ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said she could not comment on the pending legal matter, but said the agency acts under the Immigration and Nationality Act when it “places detainers on individuals who have been arrested on local criminal charges and who are suspected of being deportable.”

Susai Manickam Francis, as ICE identified him, is unlawfully present in the U.S. and was first arrested June 13 by Nassau police and then on Nov. 28 by Suffolk police. The agency said it placed the detainer request on Dec. 5.

The legal challenge is the latest attempt by advocates to stop county sheriffs on Long Island from holding immigrants over warrantless detention requests that they say violate their rights.

Two other suits are pending challenging the legality of detention practices of local officials: one filed last month in state court against the Nassau County Police Department, and the other filed in August in federal court against Suffolk County and federal officials and agencies.

The NYCLU cast the latest lawsuit as part of a larger push against wholesale immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump.

“The role of local law enforcement is to protect and serve all New Yorkers,” said Executive Director Donna Lieberman, “and that is incompatible with the unlawful detention of our neighbors and family members at the behest of the Trump deportation machine.”

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