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Federal Judge John Lee of the Northern District of Illinois has granted class certification in a federal class action lawsuit challenging the federal government’s unlawful use of immigration detainers to hold immigrants in the custody of local law enforcement agencies.

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and the law firm of Winston & Strawn LLP represent the plaintiff class in Jimenez Moreno v. Napolitano. The plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) use of immigration detainers, which instruct police to continue to detain individuals until ICE officers arrive to take the individuals into custody. Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is a U.S. citizen who was held on an immigration detainer in Rockford, Illinois, from March 2011 until shortly after the federal lawsuit was filed in August 2011. As a U.S. citizen, the man cannot be deported from the United States.

“DHS detainers deprive thousands of men and women of basic constitutional due process rights,” said Mark Fleming, NIJC national litigation coordinator. “This expansive use of detainers harms U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, families, and communities, and betrays American ideals of fairness and justice.”

The class certification grant could affect all detainers originating from the Chicago ICE field office, which issues detainers against individuals in 30 states.

The plaintiffs in Jimenez Moreno argue that DHS should have better procedures for avoiding improper detainers; should give people notice and an opportunity to challenge detainers; should not issue detainers without warrants unless they have probable cause that individuals are noncitizens likely to flee before warrants can be obtained; and should lift improper detainers without delay.

“If we prevail in this case, the federal government will be forced to adopt rules that will lead to fair treatment for all, U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike,” said Linda Coberly of Winston & Strawn LLP, lead pro bono counsel for the plaintiff class. "The fact that these detainers have resulted in the improper detention of hundreds of U.S. citizens illustrates the risk of giving nameless government officials the right to order someone’s detention on nothing more than their word, without even seeking an arrest warrant.”

Earlier this year, Jimenez Moreno forced ICE officials for the first time to explicitly admit that immigration detainers are not mandatory, a concession relied upon by several federal courts, including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Galarza v. Szalczyk. This week, the Northern District of Illinois also reaffirmed the finding that detainers are not mandatory. The Jimenez Moreno concessions and Galarza ruling have provided the legal basis for more than 250 city and state law enforcement agencies to cease honoring detainer requests.

The constitutional shortcuts at issue in this litigation form the basis for ICE’s controversial Secure Communities interior enforcement program, which has resulted in the unnecessary detention and deportation of thousands of undocumented men and women, many of whom ended up in immigration custody following traffic stops and other non-violent low-level offenses.