In a letter sent to Police Chief Hugh Clements, Jr., the American Civil Liberties of Rhode Island is urging the Providence Police Department to reject immigration detainers issued without judicial oversight now that the state Department of Corrections has ended the practice of detaining individuals based solely on these requests.

A number of federal courts, including in Rhode Island, have ruled that these Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) detainers are not orders, but non-binding requests, and that local authorities may face legal liability for violating the Fourth Amendment and due process rights of any individuals they hold in jail on the basis of these detainers. In response to the Rhode Island court decision, in a case handled by the ACLU on behalf of a U.S. citizen who was twice imprisoned based on erroneous ICE detainers, Governor Chafee last week announced a new policy ordering the R.I. Department of Corrections to no longer hold individuals on detainers from ICE unless a warrant has been issued.

In a letter to the Providence Police Department, ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown urged Providence to follow suit, noting: “While ICE may have led you to believe that ICE detainers are mandatory, it is now abundantly clear that they are non-binding requests, and police departments that choose to enforce them do so at their own risk.”

The ACLU of RI noted that according to records maintained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the Providence police department held 36 people pursuant to ICE detainers between October 2011 and August 2013. The TRAC database also shows that 64 percent of the people held on those detainers had no criminal history.

The letter, noting that honoring these questionable ICE detainers undermines public safety, stated: “Many jurisdictions report that after adopting a limited- or no- detainer policy, they experienced a dramatic improvement in their ability to partner with immigrant communities to fight crime and help victims come forward because community members were no longer fearful of being held on a detainer.”

The ACLU asked the department to review the court rulings and new state policy and formally determine that it will no longer honor ICE detainers absent judicial authorization.