When should county sheriffs hold deportable suspects for federal authorities? An Oregon rape case in which a man who has been deported to Mexico 20 times was arrested illustrates the dilemmas.
The Trump administration and the Portland, Or., sheriff are fiercely blaming each other for allowing an accused immigrant’s crimes to happen, the New York Times reports. Sergio Jose Martinez, who is accused of crawling through the bedroom window of a 65-year-old woman, tying her up and raping her, has been deported to Mexico 20 times and has been arrested 10 times this year. Under fire for releasing Martinez after a stint in jail, Sheriff Mike Reese said President Trump’s immigration agency was at fault for failing to provide a legal basis for holding him longer. The White House blamed Reese for letting him go.
Such cases are inciting outrage, amplified by an administration that is eager to expel undocumented immigrants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that releasing deportable immigrants like Martinez when their jail terms were over does “far broader damage to the country than many understand.” The political jockeying is rooted in a constitutional disconnect between criminal justice and immigration enforcement, which is a matter of civil, not criminal, law. Questions over the legality of trying to connect the two may be one of the most significant legal challenges to the Trump administration’s immigration policy. The way the administration sees it, local jails have the potential to become a powerful pipeline for deportation. Jailed immigrants must serve their sentences first, before they can be detained by immigration authorities. As a practical matter, it is often impossible for immigration agents to be at the jail the moment immigrants are released, which may happen on short notice, late at night or on a weekend.