Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, at a roundtable discussion at the Yaphank correctional facility Feb. 9, 2018. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Recently elected Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D-Lake Grove) said today he will not change the county’s policy of honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests established by his predecessor.

This means that if an undocumented immigrant living in Suffolk is arrested and would be eligible for release pending trial, the Suffolk sheriff will keep the person in custody at the request of ICE until the deportation process starts.

“If you look at the administrative detainers, there’s probable cause,” Toulon said, referring to the judicial standard required for a lawful arrest. “So we’re giving the law enforcement agency, which we would do with anyone — it says probable cause, we’re going to hold them.”

Toulon’s comments came at a media roundtable he hosted in Yaphank, in response to a reporter’s questions about whether he anticipated changing Suffolk’s current policy of honoring ICE detainer requests established by his predecessor in December 2016. At that time, former sheriff Vincent DeMarco reversed the county’s two-year-old policy of requiring ICE to obtain a warrant requiring the county to detain someone otherwise eligible for release. The reversal drew fire from immigrant advocates and civil liberties groups.

“ICE will stay in this jail,” Toulon said this morning.

The federal agency has offices in both the Yaphank and Riverhead jails and also rents space from the Suffolk sheriff to house ICE detainees.

Toulon said his objective is to “keep the community safe…and if I’m given a detainer or some sort of warrant from law enforcement, I’m going to honor it.”

But holding someone on an administrative request from ICE is not the same as a warrant, civil rights advocates argue.

“It isn’t probable cause that the person has committed a crime in New York State and that’s really what the sheriff’s office should be looking at,” said Patrick Young, special professor of immigration law at Hofstra University School of Law and program director at CARECEN-NY, which provides legal assistance to immigrant communities on Long Island.

“It’s probable cause that they committed a civil violation [of immigration law] not a criminal violation.”

The policy of honoring ICE detainer requests “creates apprehension and fear of contact with the police, even if police themselves aren’t honoring an ICE detainer, it will then result in that person being turned over to ICE because the sheriff is honoring the ICE detainer,” Young said.

“It creates this schizophrenia of county law enforcement.”

OLA of Eastern Long Island executive director Minerva Perez said the policy is “very troubling.”

“In terms of the 48-hour hold, the most important thing to remember is that agreeing to hold someone when you don’t have the legal rights to hold them from a local context, without a judicial warrant, is a violation of our Fourth Amendment, and a violation of our Constitution,” Perez said, adding,“This is an issue for all people of our country and our community to be concerned about. We are not upholding our own values and what holds us together, and that’s ultimately what this is about.”

Undocumented immigrants enjoy many of the same constitutional rights as citizens and legal residents of the U.S., including rights against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to due process of law. In the realm of immigration law, however, the rights of undocumented persons are not the same as citizens or legal residents. The question is whether their constitutional rights are violated when local law enforcement agencies honor federal immigration officials’ detainer requests where there is no judicial warrant.

The Trump administration has stepped up immigration enforcement and deportation proceedings. The president has condemned “sanctuary” municipalities that do not honor ICE detainer requests and has called on Congress to withhold federal funds from those jurisdictions.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.