On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that local police do not have the power to enforce deportation orders without explicit instruction from federal authorities. In the decision, Judge James A. Wynn wrote that “absent express direction or authorization by federal officials, state and local law enforcement officers may not detain or arrest an individual solely based on known or suspected civil violations of federal immigration law.” The ruling helps clarify the Supreme Court’s vague decision in Arizona v. United States last year about local discretion in enforcing immigration orders.
The civil rights ramifications of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling are clear. Less obvious are the economic consequences for immigrant families who fall within the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction, and whose livelihoods can now less capriciously be upended by local police.
As the Center for American Progress pointed out in a 2012 report:
The economic fallout of a deportation is perhaps the most significant of the long term consequences of immigration enforcement. … Prior to a detention or deportation, [many immigrant] families constitute a class of low-wage workers. With a detention or deportation, families slip easily into poverty. For families experiencing a detention or deportation, household income drops drastically from one day to the next, which is a shock for families already getting by on low wages.
The plaintiff in the Fourth Circuit case is Roxana Santos, a Salvadoran dishwasher at a Maryland food co-op. In the fall of 2008, Santos was approached by local police while she was on her lunch break at work. For 15 minutes the officers questioned her, looked at her Salvadoran identification, and then ran a background check, which revealed her outstanding deportation warrant per the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Santos was then jailed for the next 36 days, during which time she was separated from her 1-year-old son.
Her experience is not rare. “People in the community were sharing with us that they were being stopped and harassed,” said Enid Gonzalez, senior manager of Legal Services at Casa de Maryland, an immigrant rights and legal services organization based in Baltimore that aided Santos. The systemic seizures are believed to be at the behest of Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland, who, according to immigrant rights advocates, has been zealously enforcing deportation orders without federal direction.
While the Fourth Circuit’s decision does not explicitly mention Santos’ family or economic status, the implications are clear: She was an immigrant woman dishwasher sitting on a curb eating a sandwich when two armed officers approached, questioned, arrested, and jailed her.