A federal appeals court heard arguments Thursday in the case of a Lehigh County, Pennsylvania man jailed over suspicions that he was in the country illegally.
Ernesto Galarza, a U.S. citizen born in New Jersey, made bail on a drug charge, but the county held him for three additional days at the behest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At stake in the case is whether ICE asks of local officials are binding.
The federal government has already settled with the plaintiff out of court. Attorney Thomas Caffrey has defended Lehigh County, which agreed Galarza should not have been held, but argued they had no choice.
“The immigration detainer is a mandatory requirement that county and other jails are required to follow,” Caffrey said after the hearing.
The attorney for Galarza, Kate Desormeau of the ACLU Immigrants’ Right Project, said this is the first time this issue — whether a local government must honor such administrative holds without any determination of probable cause — is reaching a federal appeals court.
“It’s been this baseline understanding jurisdictions have, that they have the ability to decide how use their own resources, said Desormeau. “The federal government can’t tell them, ‘hold this person at your own expense for us.'”
Caffrey called those concerns “very legitimate,” but said they were beyond the bounds of the current appeal.
In some situations, certain police departments, including Newark, N.J., have official policies not to honor such requests. They have expressed concern about minor offenses resulting in the separation of families and distrust of police in their communities.
The court has not said when it will issue a ruling.