Undocumented immigrants are often said to be breaking the law simply by being in the country. Therefore, some people wonder whether local police in their neighborhood have the authority to arrest and detain someone based solely on the person’s status as an undocumented immigrant. This is a question that is likely to come up more often now that the issue of sanctuary cities is in the spotlight across the country.
Immigration law is a federal matter, which means that state police and local city police officers do not necessarily go out of their way to enforce federal immigration law. Generally, only federal law enforcement officers can take someone into custody for violation of immigration laws. There are some situations under which a non-federal police officer can take a person into custody for suspicion of an immigration law. Federal law enforcement officers can also work with local police to take an undocumented immigrant into custody.
If local police officers were to enforce immigration laws, there is also a problem with how local police would determine which people were illegally in the country and which ones had the valid paperwork to be here. Police officers need reasonable suspicion to stop someone to investigate a crime, and need probable cause or a warrant to make an arrest. These restrictions should make it more difficult for police to target people for harassment or arrest simply because they look “foreign.”
All this does not mean that some police officers do not make up reasons to stop people based on racial profiling, and then look for a reason to arrest a person who may be in the country illegally. Police officers do have the right to stop a person briefly and inquire about their identification.
Once arrested on a criminal charge, for example, driving without a license or driving under the influence of alcohol, an undocumented immigrant can be picked up by federal law enforcement officials. A civil warrant for an undocumented immigrant based on a removal order is not in itself grounds for local police officers to arrest the undocumented immigrant, especially if there is no evidence of an independent criminal act.
Once an undocumented immigrant is arrested and jailed for a criminal offense, he or she is processed in the police system as part of the arrest. Once in the system, federal immigration officials can send a detainer request to the local police department asking that the immigrant be held for federal law enforcement officials to pick him or her up. This is the current issue with sanctuary cities: In those cities, officials have decided that police officers are not required to honor federal detainer requests.
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If your relative or loved one was picked up by immigration enforcement officers after being arrested on a local charge, he or she may be facing deportation soon. A criminal conviction may affect the way the person is able to contest the deportation. For more information on how an experienced immigration attorney can help, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP today.