Montana Supreme Court: No Honoring Immigration Detainers
By David Jaroslav | FAIR Take | March 2020
Since 2017, appellate courts in Massachusetts, New York, and now most recently in Montana, have held that state and local law enforcement may not honor immigration detainers and hold illegal aliens in their custody for 48 hours to be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), effectively turning their states into sanctuary states.
On March 25, the Montana State Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers, based on immigration detainers, may not detain an individual past the time he/she was entitled to be released. In this case, Agustin Ramon, an illegal alien who was a dual national of both Mexico and France, was arrested and charged with burglary and theft for stealing prescription drugs from his neighbor’s house. Since ICE had lodged a detainer for him with the Lincoln County Jail, he was told that if he posted bond he would be turned over to ICE. Not wanting to be turned over to ICE, he chose to remain in county jail for another three months before pleading guilty. After his guilty plea he was handed over to ICE and deported.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Lincoln County Sheriff Darren Short on Ramon’s behalf, claiming Short had no authority to honor immigration detainers. A local trial court sided with the sheriff and Ramon appealed. Despite a friend of the court brief filed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the Montana Supreme Court reversed the decision in a 7-0 decision ruling. In an opinion by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, the court held:
- The case fell into an exception to the mootness doctrine, because although Ramon was no longer in Short’s custody, similar circumstances were likely to recur;
- Holding someone on a detainer amounts to a new arrest under Montana law;
- Federal law only authorizes state or local law enforcement to honor detainers if they are in a 287(g) or other official cooperative agreement with ICE; and
- Montana state law, whether statute or common law, does not authorize honoring detainers.
The Montana Supreme court relied heavily on the decisions in Massachusetts’ Lunn v. Commonwealth and New York’s Francis v. DeMarco. Justice Jim Rice filed a separate concurring opinion, joined by two other justices, stressing that they did not believe the law limited any other forms of cooperation or information-sharing with ICE, only detainers.
Because the court ruled on questions of federal law as well as state law, Sheriff Short could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has 90 days from when the Montana Supreme Court issued its opinion to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court for review. Even if Sheriff Short files his appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, it does not guarantee the Court will hear it. The Supreme Court has discretion whether to accept the appeal on its merits, and only accepts a small number of cases.
The Montana Supreme Court’s ruling allows sheriffs to honor detainers if they enter into 287(g) agreements with ICE. Additionally, the state legislature could pass anti-sanctuary legislation specifically authorizing or even requiring to law enforcement officer to honor detainers, as several states already have.
Click here to read the Montana Supreme Court’s opinion in Ramon v. Short.