Image Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Border Security

Reverse Sanctuary Suit: Sheriff Targeted for ICE Cooperation

Illegal immigrant who overstayed student visa claims detention by Nashville violated his constitutional rights

Even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions fights to push recalcitrant “sanctuary” jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a legal dispute in Tennessee revolves around the reverse — a jurisdiction that voluntarily cooperates.

The class-action lawsuit, filed by a Saudi man targeted for deportation after he overstayed his student visa, seeks a court order prohibiting Nashville’s Davidson County from honoring hold requests from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

U.S. District Judge William Campbell Jr. has asked lawyers in the case for written arguments about whether to grant the defendant’s request to toss out the case.

At issue is whether Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, a Democrat, and other local officials violated Abdullah Abriq’s constitutional rights.

“While similar to detainer cases in many respects, detainer cases often implicate a person who has been charged with a criminal offense,” his attorney, Tricia Herzfeld, wrote in an email response to questions from LifeZette.

“Mr. Abriq has never been charged with a criminal offense. The issue in this case is that the jail does not have a contract with ICE to house immigration detainees. The jail once had a contract to enforce federal immigration law, but that contract expired in 2012 and was not renewed.”

ICE agents in April last year arrested Abriq after determining that he was in the United States unlawfully and asked Davidson County to hold him at its jail. Abriq’s attorneys argue that Hall impermissibly jailed him and others arrested by ICE despite the fact that a contract between the federal government and the local government had expired.

The lawsuit contends that at least hundreds and probably thousands of others have been in the same situation as Abriq since 2012.

Abriq spent six days in the jail before ICE transferred him to a federal facility. Herzfeld wrote that her client now is living with his wife, an American citizen, and has applied for a green card.

Campbell previously had dismissed several of the claims made in the lawsuit but has ruled that Abriq’s detention probably violates the Fourth Amendment unless the government can show that agents had probable cause to believe he had committed a crime, and not just a civil immigration violation.

The case has drawn the interest of national organizations. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the low-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), filed a friend of the court brief last week on behalf of the defendants.

“A lot of times in these immigration cases, they go after the local jurisdiction because they don’t have the money.”

IRLI noted that since the judge raised Fourth Amendment concerns, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case out of Texas that proper hold requests from ICE do not violate the Fourth Amendment. Although Tennessee is not subject to the 5th Circuit’s jurisdiction, IRLI urged Campbell to consider the decision.

“In light of this persuasive circuit court precedent, this court should reconsider its tentative ruling that compliance with ICE detainer requests violates the Fourth Amendment, and grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment,” the brief states.

It is proper for the federal government to enforce immigration laws by detaining illegal immigrants even if they have not committed criminal offenses, the group argued. It also is reasonable for local authorities both to cooperate with ICE and rely on the federal government’s determination of probable cause, the brief states.

IRLI argues that a formal agreement, which essentially deputizes local law enforcement officers to work side by side with ICE, is not necessary for the local jurisdiction merely to cooperate by honoring hold requests. Nor does it violate the Fourth Amendment, IRLI staff counsel Elizabeth Hohenstein told LifeZette.

“That is not the law,” she said. “The Fourth Amendment talks about reasonableness.”

Related: No More Cheating: Trump Tightens Rules for Student Visas

Hohenstein said immigration activists often seek to frustrate immigration enforcement by targeting local jurisdictions as an intimidation strategy.

“A lot of times in these immigration cases, they go after the local jurisdiction because they don’t have the money,” she said. “It’s a great tactic for them to take.”

Hohenstein said she hopes for a fast decision by the judge.

“You hope it’s quicker, but you don’t know,” she said.