A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in an undated...

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in an undated photo. Credit: ICE

In a case originating in Suffolk County, a court ruled Wednesday that state and local law enforcement have no authority to arrest and detain people on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for deportation purposes.

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court, in a 4-0 ruling, upended a policy implemented by former Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent F. DeMarco 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.

Such a policy was "unlawful" under New York law, the court ruled. Shortly after the decision came down Wednesday, Sheriff Errol Toulon, who succeeded DeMarco, issued a staff directive saying: "This practice shall cease immediately."

The case at the center of the issue dealt with Susai Francis, a citizen of India who moved to New York in 1996 under a six-month visitor's visa. He failed to depart upon the visa's expiration; he now has two children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen. According to court documents, he was charged in Suffolk County in 2016 with violating a Family Court order of protection.

Francis ultimately pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges on Dec. 11, 2017, and was sentenced to time served. But instead of being released, he was detained at a county jail in Riverhead, "placed in a jail cell rented by ICE," according to court documents. Two days later, ICE agents retrieved Francis and  took him to a federal facility to begin deportation proceedings.

Francis should have been released from Suffolk custody and not turned over to the federal authorities, the court ruled.

“We conclude that the Sheriff’s policy . . . directing the retention of prisoners, who would otherwise be released, pursuant to ICE detainers and administrative warrants is unlawful and that Francis’s detention by the sheriff on December 11, 2017, which detention commenced after the termination of Francis’s court proceeding that day, was thus unlawful,” Justice Alan D. Scheinkman wrote for the court.

In another passage of the 20-page decision, Scheinkman said more broadly: “We conclude that New York state and local law enforcement officers are not authorized by New York law to effectuate arrests for civil law immigration violations.”

The Appellate Division is the state's midlevel court. Suffolk County could appeal the decision to the New York State Court of Appeals.

Civil liberties advocates had sued DeMarco, seeking to overturn his detention policy. They cheered Wednesday's decision.

  “This critical ruling makes clear that police and sheriffs in New York not only should not, but cannot do ICE’s bidding,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The role of local law enforcement is to protect and serve all New Yorkers, and that is incompatible with the unlawful detention of our neighbors and family members at the behest of the Trump deportation machine.”

  Francis is still being held in an ICE facility in New Jersey and facing deportation, an NYCLU spokeswoman said. 

 DeMarco, who has been under consideration by the Trump administration for a job as a federal marshal, didn't return a call immediately to comment. In 2016, he told Newsday his policy change was because of legal analysis and not political considerations. 

Toulon, who was elected in 2017 and took office two weeks after ICE picked up Francis, ordered a halt to the practice following the court ruling.

 "As per the County Attorney, Dennis Brown, the practice of detaining a person cleared of the local charge pursuant to a warrant and detainer is an unlawful new arrest," Toulon said in a message to staff Wednesday. "This practice shall cease immediately."

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