By Natalia E. Contreras | Indianapolis Star
May 5, 2021
Indiana immigrant advocates and faith leaders on Tuesday asked Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal to stop holding immigrants at the county jail without a warrant at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Forestal said he will work with advocates in Indianapolis but will continue to uphold state law, which prohibits limiting or restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
“So although that’s not a popular position, I will continue to recognize the ICE detainers,” Forestal said. “I would support any law that was passed (that) did not require the sheriffs of Indiana to forcibly detain people unless they had a criminal charge attached.”
Faith in Indiana – a nonpartisan, faith-based grassroots organization advocating for racial and economic justice – hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday dubbed “Freedom Together” to urge Forestal to end ICE immigration detainers.
U.S. Rep. André Carson and Indianapolis council member Keith Potts also attended the virtual event.
How ICE detainers work
ICE currently has an intergovernmental service agreement with the Marion County Jail, an ICE spokesperson told IndyStar. The agreement is a contract between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE and the Marion County Jail to detain immigrants. As of Tuesday, specific terms of the agreement were not available.
Immigration detainers are not arrest warrants signed by a judge. The detainers are written requests by ICE asking a local law enforcement agency to notify them before releasing a person in custody. The request asks the agencies to detain individuals beyond the time when they should be released – no longer than an additional 48 hours – so ICE can take them into custody.
The detainers are “requests” and not mandatory, Jess Hunter-Bowman, an immigration attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said during the virtual event.
But Senate Bill 590, passed in Indiana in 2011, makes the issue more complicated in the Hoosier state, he said.
“How SB 590 affects a sheriff’s response to an ICE detainer request is a very complicated question,” Hunter-Bowman said. “But it’s important to remember that federal law does not require a sheriff to honor any ICE detainer requests. And remember detainers present serious Fourth Amendment concerns because they’re never supported by individualized findings or probable cause or approved by a judge.”
As of Tuesday, data related to the number of immigrants detained monthly and annually at the Marion County Jail was not available. An ICE spokesperson told IndyStar the “average length of stay” for an immigrant at Marion County Jail before being taken into ICE custody is two days.
Forestal said the federal government pays the jail $72 per day to hold a person through an ICE detainer request.
‘This is about accountability’
Event attendees also shared how the detainers negatively impact Hoosier immigrant families.
“This is about accountability,” said Maria Dueñas Lopez, 23, a Faith in Indiana community organizer focusing on immigrant justice. “We want our sheriff, our congressman, our elected officials to see that we are here, we are present. We’re here to ask you what you’re doing to protect us.”
This isn’t the first time immigrant advocates and Faith in Indiana pushed the sheriff’s office in Marion County to put a stop to detaining immigrants at the jail at the request of ICE.
In 2017, thousands attended a rally where the group pressed then-Sheriff John Layton to stop cooperating with the immigration agency.
That same year, attorneys, labor groups and the Indiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against the sheriff’s office over its compliance with ICE detainer requests. A federal judge approved a settlement and prohibited the immigration detainers in Marion County. But in 2018, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill appealed the settlement and tossed out the agreement to stop the immigration detainers in Marion County.
Carson said he will continue to work with his colleagues in Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for essential undocumented workers. Undocumented people do not qualify for federal or state aid.
“I have urged President Biden and congressional leadership to include a pathway to citizenship for those 5 million-plus undocumented essential workers in this country,” Carson said. “We need you to continue making your voices heard on this issue so everyone in Washington knows that this is a priority.”
As of 2018, nearly 100,000 undocumented immigrants called Indiana home, according to data by the American Immigration Council. And 40,000 of those reside in the Indianapolis, Carmel and Anderson metro area.
Advocacy groups are also still pushing the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally in Indiana.
Senate Bill 319 – a bipartisan bill that would have allowed the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue driving cards and driving card learner’s permits to residents of Indiana who cannot provide proof of identity and lawful status in the United States – did not move forward this year.
The advocacy groups are mobilizing to push the legislative council to assign an interim study committee on the issue at the Statehouse this summer.
IndyStar reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 317-518-2829 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter, @NataliaECG.