Ninth Circuit Overturns Federal Judge’s Ban on Immigration Holds in California

In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, detainees exercise at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Ninth Circuit overturned a federal judge’s ban on immigration holds throughout Southern California on Friday, finding the judge wrongly concluded it is unconstitutional for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to rely solely on information from its own databases in making probable cause determinations for such holds.

“Throughout the district court’s order are a number of sweeping, categorical conclusions about the databases on which ICE relies. These categorical findings, however, suffer from a key shortcoming: the district court did not make reliability findings for all the databases on which ICE relies,” Judge Milan Smith wrote for the three-judge panel.

In 2018, U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. found the databases are an unreliable method of determining probable cause when issuing an immigration hold. A federal class action challenging the constitutionality of the practice was originally brought by Gerardo Gonzalez, a U.S. citizen who had an immigration determiner issued against him based on false information pulled from an ICE database.

Gonzalez, a United States citizen born in Pacoima, was picked up in 2012 on a felony charge of possession of methamphetamines and was detained on a five-day immigration hold by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department after one ICE database erroneously flagged Mexico as his birthplace.

Following a trial in May 2019, Birotte entered a final judgment barring ICE from issuing detainers based on inaccurate database results.

Smith, who was joined in his opinion by Judge John Owens, found the scope of Birotte’s analysis insufficient. 

“Although trial occurred in May 2019, the district court anchored its analysis in the databases on which ICE relied as of December 2017 and identified sixteen databases on which ICE relied at that point. Its unreliability findings, however, concerned only six databases,” he wrote.

“In a case concerning the reliability of the databases on which ICE relies to make probable cause determinations, the district court could not make categorical findings of unreliability without actually addressing each database on which ICE relies or explaining why an evaluation of a given database was unnecessary. Because the court failed to do so, the court erred in concluding that ICE’s practice of relying solely on searches of ‘the databases’ to make probable cause determinations violates the Fourth Amendment.”

The majority also said Birotte’s ruling lacked a filing of systemic error in ICE’s probable cause determinations based on database searches. 

“The database claim that plaintiffs raise is a challenge to a system of databases on which ICE relies to issue detainers from the Central District for class members. Thus, to find for plaintiffs on this claim, it was not enough for the district court to identify errors in individual databases on which ICE relies,” Milan wrote. “Instead, the district court had to make findings about and explain how this system of databases.”

“The court is asking for more factual findings and to resolve some lingering questions it had in reading the court’s order,” ACLU attorney Jennifer Pasquarella said Friday. “They are basically asking the district court to go back and reassess in light and make additional findings about the reliability of the databases results in ‘unreliable’ probable cause determinations.”

Pasquarella praised the panel’s finding that Gonzalez and other class members have the Fourth Amendment right to a neutral magistrate’s assessment of their detention when they are mistaken for non-citizens, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Gerstein v. Pugh which Milan said applies even in the civil immigration context.

“Ensuring there is some neutral review of ICE’s determinations to arrest someone is really critical, and very I think significant for advancing the rights of individuals who are subject to immigration detainers,” she said. 

Smith, a George W. Bush appointee, and Owens, a Barack Obama appointee, were joined on the bench by Circuit Judge Bridget Bade, a Donald Trump appointee.

An ICE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

%d bloggers like this: