Third Circuit Issues Path-Breaking Immigration Law Decision In Case Co-Counseled By ACLU and KRMF

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an important decision on March 4 on a previously undecided issue: whether a local government can be held accountable for agreeing to hold someone in prison custody at the request of immigration officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The case was brought by Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen, born in New Jersey, who was named as the subject of an “immigration detainer” in November 2008.  Given his citizenship, there was no reason for anyone to conclude that Mr. Galarza was subject to immigration detention.  However, as a result of the detainer, Mr. Galarza was unlawfully held for three days in the Lehigh County Jail.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Galarza claimed that Lehigh County was liable to him for agreeing to hold him in custody as requested in the detainer.  Lehigh County argued, and a lower court agreed, that it was required to comply with the request to hold Mr. Galarza.  The Third Circuit, however, agreed with Mr. Galarza that the federal government cannot force a county government to hold someone for purposes of an immigration investigation.  Following this line of reasoning, the Court accepted Mr. Galarza’s argument that Lehigh County can be required to compensate Mr. Galarza for the time he spent in custody.

The decision is likely to become one of the leading cases nationally concerning the use of immigration detainers and the responsibilities of local law enforcement agencies when responding to federal government requests to hold a person for purposes of an immigration investigation.

KRMF partner Jonathan Feinberg is one of several attorneys on the team representing Mr. Galarza.  Others include Mary Catherine Roper, Witold Walczak and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Kate Desormeau, Omar Jadwat, Cecillia Wang, Orion Danjuma and Esha Bhandari of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Read the Decision

Read the ACLU’s Press Release

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