“The federal courts have made it clear we shouldn’t be honoring that or we don’t need to honor that.”

He said Lehigh County will release individuals who make bail rather than holding them for 48 hours. He said ICE will lose those individuals if its agents are not there when they are released.

“We’re not saying categorically that we will not honor ICE detainers,”
said the corrections director.

“We will still attempt to work with ICE. If they send us a detainer, we will put it in an individual’s file.”

He said if someone who is in jail on other charges is going to be released and prison officials know ICE has an interest in that person, “we will contact ICE and tell them we do our discharges at 6:30 in the evening if you want to be here.”

Sweeney said federal immigration officials have plenty of tools “to fix this problem if they chose to, but they really can’t get out of their own way right now when it comes to immigration issues. They have no compass at this point.

“We all keep hearing that we need meaningful immigration reform in this country. This will be part of that, if and when that ever comes to pass.”

Sweeney stressed Lehigh County Prison does not hold illegal aliens for ICE. “There has to be an underlying criminal offense, which brought him to us. We are not an ICE detention contracted facility. These are criminal arrestees who happen to also perhaps be illegal aliens.”

Commissioners’ opinions

After learning what happened, the commissioners unanimously passed a policy resolution that the corrections department will release such individuals from county custody, unless it receives “a judicially-issued detainer, warrant or order.”

The resolution also states that, when practical, the corrections
department will advise ICE when someone it wants will be released
from county custody, to permit ICE to assume custody.

The resolution states that the county “respects the rule of law, as well as the civil rights and liberty of our citizens.”

“This is a due process issue,” said Commissioner Scott Ott, who co-sponsored the resolution. He said when someone is picked up by law enforcement officials “you can’t assume they’re not a U.S. citizen and detain them until ICE figures out who they are. You run the risk of detaining an American citizen against his will.”

Commissioner Vic Mazziotti initially announced he would vote no on the resolution, saying to do otherwise would be “endorsing what is clearly a dysfunctional and ridiculous process. What’s going on is improper, but I’m not sure this is the proper resolution to the issue that we face.”

Mazziotti would rather have seen a resolution “that makes it clear we think the process needs to be fixed. To me, ignoring a request from a federal agency is not the proper fix.”

Countered Ott: “All we’re saying is that if we’re going to hold somebody -- who could potentially be absolutely innocent of whatever it is that ICE thinks they may be guilty of – that we have to have a legitimate legal process.

“This is standing on the side of liberty against the potential of a bureaucracy that is either incompetent or outright corrupt.

“We detained an American citizen. I feel complicit in that. I do not want to be part of that.”

DA not weighed in

Commissioner Michael Schware asked if the proposed resolution has the support of Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.

Sweeney said the district attorney “is not weighing in on this. He’s his own elected entity and I think his position might be a little different than mine. But he’s aware of that fact that I am here and that I believe this is the best course of action for Lehigh County.”

Caffrey added that if Martin did oppose the proposed policy change “he’d probably be here to tell you that.”

Said Sweeney: “I believe the district attorney’s position is he would like to see us continue to honor those detainers to whatever degree we think we can effectively do that.”

Schware initially was hesitant to move forward without the district attorney weighing in.

Said Caffrey: “Jim Martin is fully aware of this resolution. We’ve given him a copy. He knows we’re here. He’s been in the loop from day one.”