Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement billboards popped up around Pennsylvania featuring pictures of immigrants who had recently been arrested and released by local authorities. These billboards were designed like “WANTED” signs and characterized sanctuary cities and their policies as dangerous. However, the truth is that sanctuary cities keep people safe and protect them from a very real threat – unconstitutional detainment by ICE, as illustrated by the case of Ernesto Galarza.
Ernesto Galarza was mistakenly arrested in 2008 for drug charges in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Mr. Galarza, despite having 2 forms of US identification on his person, was suspected of being an undocumented immigrant and was reported to ICE by local officers. ICE issued a detainer for Galarza, who was then held in jail, without access to his family or a lawyer, for 3 days, even though police had agreed that Mr. Galarza was not, in fact, connected to any drugs and under normal circumstances should have been released.
During those three days, his wife and children were frantic because they did not know what happened to him (he was not permitted a phone call). His employer, assuming he had simply failed to show up for work without calling in fired him. Local officers, because of a piece of paper provided by ICE – not a warrant signed by a Judge – held an innocent man for 3 days despite the fact that he was a US citizen. There was no warrant or court order issued for this imprisonment. The only justification was a request made from ICE that was based on a racially charged suspicion. Mr. Galarza sued and the Federal Court, unsurprisingly, held that imprisoning people without a warrant violates their civil rights. Allentown was fined thousands of dollars in civil penalties for failing to uphold the law.
Police departments that imprison people without a warrant are doing so in violation of those persons’ Constitutional rights. This case shows us that no person who resides in the United States, regardless of immigration status, is safe while ICE is allowed to act extra-judicially and while local law enforcement agencies continue to cooperate with unconstitutional requests. Sanctuary cities protect all of us from summarily being imprisoned without probable cause.
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More information on the Galarza case can be found here