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The ICE Detention Of A US-Born Marine Was The Last Straw For A Michigan Sheriff

The Kent County Sheriff's Department says it will no longer honor ICE requests to hold a prisoner unless a judge has signed a warrant.

Posted on January 18, 2019, at 8:15 p.m. ET

Courtesy of the Gomez family

The Michigan county sheriff who held and transferred a US-born Marine to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody late last year will no longer detain individuals for the agency without a judicial warrant, authorities announced Friday.

The policy, effective immediately, fundamentally changes the way the Kent County Sheriff’s Office interacts with ICE and copies a model taken up by many “sanctuary” jurisdictions across the country.

“The additional requirement of independent judicial review will increase the level of oversight of ICE detention requests in Kent County. Our justice system is built on a balance of authority and oversight. For that reason, we advocate for the requirement that all ICE detention requests be subject to judicial review at a national level,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said in a statement Friday.

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a 27-year-old US-born Marine who served in Afghanistan and has post-traumatic stress disorder, was set to be released on his own recognizance after pleading guilty to a trespassing charge, but the sheriff’s department detained him for over an hour so that he could be transferred to ICE custody.

He remained in ICE custody for three days, from Dec. 14–17, until his attorney called and provided documentation that he was a US citizen.

“I join the friends and family of Mr. Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, as well as the residents of Kent County and others, who have expressed extreme concern and even outrage over the treatment of Mr. Ramos-Gomez by ICE officials in December 2018,” said LaJoye-Young in the statement.

The sheriff also announced that the office would investigate the case.

Previously, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office would hold individuals for ICE for up to three days after receiving an administrative “warrant” issued by ICE.

ICE has said that Ramos-Gomez told them he was undocumented during an interview in jail and that they took action afterward. The ACLU of Michigan, which has taken up his case, believes that such a claim raises the question about ICE's lack of investigation. An ACLU attorney raised the possibility that Ramos-Gomez was interviewed by ICE officers because of his name.

“If his name is John Smith, ICE isn’t interviewing him,” Miriam Aukerman, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, told BuzzFeed News.

The advocacy group said it was pleased by Friday’s decision by Kent County.

“We applaud the Kent County sheriff for launching an immediate investigation and recognizing that no one should be handed over to ICE unless ICE has a judicial warrant,” Aukerman said. “Jilmar’s case shows that blindly turning people over to ICE based on ICE’s error-ridden detainer system is a recipe for disaster.”

For its part, ICE said such a decision would only lead to the release of “foreign-born criminals back into communities” and that the sheriff should not “succumb” to the ACLU’s attacks against “effective immigration enforcement that keeps criminals off the streets.”

“There is no authority or legal mechanism for a judge or magistrate to issue a criminal warrant for an administrative immigration arrest,” said an ICE official who declined to be named. “Sanctuary policies such as these fail to recognize federally established processes for the enforcement of immigration law as established by Congress.”

Ramos-Gomez was arrested by the Grand Rapids Police Department on suspicion of attempting to start a fire in a stairwell at a hospital and trying to reach the facility’s helipad, according to his attorneys and local law enforcement. Authorities then contacted ICE because it believed the incident may have been a possible act of terrorism, according to a statement released by the police department.

Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor and immigration expert at Santa Clara University School of Law, said the sheriff’s decision was a major shift in policy.

“This is huge. This essentially is an about-face in their detention honoring policies. Detainers are the main way ICE gets a hold of people in local custody,” he said. “When you think about sanctuary policies in general, this is a huge linchpin, how a jurisdiction responds to detainers. This is a major change of policy.”

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