An attorney for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office argued Monday that state courts cannot delve into immigration enforcement under any circumstance — even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains the wrong person or officers who aren’t trained or deputized to enforce federal laws do so anyway.
The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in Chavez v. Carmichael, a Mecklenburg County case that involves two inmates challenging their immigration detention status in state court. It’s a complicated case with many moving parts, but the central issue the justices are considering is whether a state court has the jurisdiction to review habeas corpus petitions from federal immigration detainees.
Sejal Zota, the legal director of Just Futures Law, argued Monday that state courts should have the power to review whether or not a threshold for state officers to make a federal immigration arrest was met.
For example, if a county has a 287(g) agreement, a partnership with ICE in which it delegates authority to local agencies to perform federal immigration enforcement in their jurisdictions, only officers who are certified (i.e. trained and deputized in the program) can make those federal arrests. A state court should have the power to inquire whether officers were certified in an arrest.
“When a county enters into a 287(g) agreement, that is not blanket authority for everyone to start doing immigration arrests,” Zota said. “It doesn’t apply to everyone.”
She also argued that a state court should be able to establish that there was state law that allowed a federal immigration arrest (the 287(g) agreement) and that the right person identified in an ICE detainer is the right person in detention.
“This is very simple fact-finding — the trial courts deal with this all the time,” Zota said.
The point of that type of inquiry would be to prevent mistakes and the deportation of people who may be citizens or in the U.S. legally.
Sean Perrin, the attorney representing the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office, argued that the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration matters and that a state court has “no power to do anything” once it’s established an detainee is in federal custody (whether they are held in a state jail or not).
He said that if state courts could inquire about the validity of federal immigration detainers, it would lead to 100 different jurisdictional rules across the state, which defeats the purpose of a uniform federal system.
“Mecklenburg County would have different immigration rules than Cherokee County; Cherokee County would have different immigration rules than Buncombe County and so on,” he said.
Justice Robin Hudson asked Perrin if it has to first be established that the person in the immigration paperwork is the correct person, and he said “no.” Justice Mark Davis asked what would happen if a state judge saw an issue in a case — do they just say “oh, gee, have fun litigating that in federal court?”
“Yes, exactly,” Perrin said.
He added that a state court finding an error in an immigration case would be attacking federal immigration warrants, and reiterated the federal courts exclusive control over the issue. In the event the feds get something wrong, a person might be able to file a civil rights claim against the agency that arrested them, but a state court wouldn’t have authority in a case even if a jurisdiction’s 287(g) agreement was expired.
Zota, in closing, said a state court might not be able to grant relief in an immigration case, but it always has jurisdictional authority to inquire about the basis for someone’s detention.