Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has announced that the sheriff’s office will reverse its policy and will detain immigrants charged with other crimes up to 48 hours when they are wanted by ICE. Essentially what this does is give the federal agents sufficient time to come and collect the individual in question once notified of their detainment at the local jail. The previous policy, set in September 2014, was that the county would require a judge’s order, which would often take longer to get than the individual in question would be in the county’s custody due to the massive backlog in immigration courts.
This policy has been in place since December 2nd, with seven detainees being taken by ICE as of December 21st. DeMarco claims that the reasons for reasons for altering the policy are legal, citing changes in ICE’s enforcement program, advice from the county, and a December 2015 decision from the Nassau County Supreme Court. He told Newsday: “I do believe this is good public policy because it focuses on criminals. We’re talking about people who entered the country illegally and have committed crimes and have been convicted of crimes.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released a statement on Thursday, December 22nd in support of the change, saying, “I opposed open-ended detainer requests because, among other things, they placed an enormous burden on local government to spend millions on incarceration to cover unfunded mandates. However, Suffolk County works closely with federal law enforcement, and a limited, 48-hour detainer represents a step in the right direction.” Many immigrant rights groups were disappointed by the sheriff’s decision and have come out in opposition of the policy.
It is important here to understand the distinction between the sheriff and police departments. A sheriff’s jurisdiction is designated to a specific county while the police can be for a specific city, county, state or other local designation. Sheriffs are elected officials while police are hired and don’t have to worry about public elections. As both Nassau and Suffolk both have a sheriff and police department designated for the county, sheriffs are in charge of county jails and legal processes while the police handle the law enforcement.
The Nassau County sheriff’s department has always had a policy like the one Suffolk County has recently adopted, where they will accept administrative warrants and judges orders. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that his department does honor these warrants, but it is not as common an occurrence as it is the sheriff’s duty to jail others. The Nassau County Police Department also follows a similar policy and has worked with ICE in the past.
More information to come as this new policy unfolds.