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Montgomery County sheriff revises immigrant detention policy after complaints

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has revised an immigrant detention policy after pressure from civil rights groups last month who called it unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Maryland, CASA and other advocates sent the department a letter in December demanding it rescind a policy, put in place in August, requiring the detention of individuals subject to immigration detainers after they were otherwise eligible for release.

The policy permitted jailing individuals for at least three hours — longer with a supervisor’s permission — to provide time for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement agents to respond, according to ACLU attorney Nick Steiner. The letter informed Sheriff Darren Popkin that the advocacy groups believed the policy violated the Constitution and would make the office vulnerable to lawsuits.

“I think the goal of the demand letter was to not only say they were going to be liable … but then also we wanted there to be that public reaction to it, and I think since Sheriff Popkin is, I think, fairly outwardly pro-immigrant, that public element of it would make him look bad if he didn’t change the policy in a good way,” Steiner said.

Steiner said an attorney for the sheriff’s office responded almost immediately after the letter was sent and said the department would look into the policy. Steiner said he followed up last weekend and received the revised policy Wednesday.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The new policy requires a judicial officer to sign a warrant in order for the sheriff’s office to hold someone after he or she should be released because they of an acquittal, charges were dropped or the individual posted bond. Steiner said that courts have ruled a detention after someone could be released is a new detention requiring probable cause.

Detainer requests are not warrants though they are often labeled that way, he said, and they are not signed by a judge and not enough for a state agency to hold someone otherwise free to leave. Courts have held local agencies liable for damages in cases where a detainer was the sole reason for a detention.

“What we were explaining to the Montgomery County sheriff was if you do that to someone, you’ll be liable for damages for unlawfully arresting someone,” Steiner said. “We wanted to give them the chance to change the policy for better and they did.”

The decision to send a letter and not take any official legal action was in part based on Montgomery County’s status as a generally pro-immigrant community.

“Instead of going through the whole rigmarole of filing a lawsuit, we thought a demand letter should be sufficient and scare them into changing their policy,” Steiner said.


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