He said by holding Galarza based on the ICE detainer, the court deemed the county was unconstitutionally and erroneously detaining him.

ICE had led jails all across the country to believe the detainers were mandatory, said Caffrey, but now ICE is clearly saying they are only requests.

“They have said publicly that it is indeed just a request,” echoed Sweeney.

“They publicly changed their interpretation of that regulation in the midst of our litigation,” said Caffrey. “If a representative of ICE was here today, they would tell you that isn’t true. I’m here to tell you it is true.”

The county officials speculated that ICE changed its interpretation because of the Obama administration and/or politics.
“We certainly had no help from ICE when it came to our appeal,” said Caffrey. “All the third circuit knew was what the ACLU told them, that ICE had always said it was a request.”

National precedent

Sweeney said it is the first case of that type to reach the federal appeals court.

“It’s the first time nationally that there’s a ruling saying, from the circuit court level, that counties are not required to honor immigration detainers and – here’s the key – if you choose to honor immigration detainers, you do so at your own peril.

“You are then liable for any mistakes the federal government happens to make when they file such detainers against individuals.”

Sweeney said rather than supporting and assisting the county with the case, federal immigration authorities “have back pedaled quite a bit since 2008. Within the past year, they’ve actually even said publicly ‘it is just a request. We appreciate if you honor it, but you do so at your own risk’.”

Cost to the county

Caffrey said Galarza is entitled to damages for the time he spent in the county prison because his constitutional rights were violated.

“ICE, nor any other government agency, is going to be reimbursing the County of Lehigh for the damages that we will be paying for that person who was wrongfully incarcerated.”

Sweeney said he contacted federal officials “in the closing hours of our case” to see if they would help pay, considering “our trouble we went through over the past three years of litigation.

“The answer was a resounding no. They don’t pony up for the liability we face when they make an error.”

Caffrey said the damages still are being negotiated in a settlement agreement. He said they could be $20,000 to $30,000 for each day Galarza was incarcerated.

He added: “That could be the smallest part of the monetary problem for the county. A successful litigant gets attorney’s fees. His attorneys are entitled to recover what is sometimes ten-fold the amount of money.

“It could be substantial.”

Looking ahead

Caffrey and Sweeney said the county does not intend to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sweeney said the county’s corrections department could continue to honor immigration detainers “and try to do the federal government’s work for them, even though they don’t want to put any skin in the game.”

Or, said Sweeney, Lehigh County can do what many other cities and counties across the country are doing within the past year -- “just saying we’re no longer going to honor immigration detainers.”

He added that, in the last 30-60 days, “Our case is being cited as the reason they are taking this road.”

Sweeney stressed the county will honor judicially signed detainers from immigration judges, or federal judges of any type, but not immigration detainers issued by ICE agents.

He said those agents have the authority to send those detainers to law enforcement agencies “and expect that they will detain somebody for up to 48 hours without any probable cause affidavit or any judicial oversight.