The Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association listserv has been buzzing the last week or so. Local defense attorneys had noticed a much higher rate of immigration holds being placed on clients. Was this a trend?

And today, the Austin American Statesman brings us the answer, “Sheriff to let federal immigration agents set up office in jail. Agents will look for undocumented immigrants.”

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has agreed to let federal immigration agents set up an office in the county jail to more often monitor whether inmates booked into the downtown facility are legally in the United States.

Hamilton said this week that agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will likely be stationed in the jail 24 hours a day, seven days a week in coming months. They began increasing their presence in the facility late last year.

Until recently, federal officials said agents only occasionally visited the jail to check the immigration status among inmates but sought more access from Hamilton.

The increased presence has led agents to double — if not triple — the number of "immigration holds" it has traditionally placed on Travis County inmates for possible deportation, said Adrian Ramirez, assistant field office director for the San Antonio office of the federal immigration agency, whose region includes Austin.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aka ICE, will indeed be moving into the Travis County Jail. 

Whichever way you feel about the new policy, this line in the article jumped out at me:

Agents may place an immigration detainer on the inmates if they suspect they are undocumented immigrants. [Emphasis added]

I’ll bet I’m not the only criminal lawyer in Austin that knows what “suspect they are undocumented” means. It means ‘having the wrong name’.

This isn’t some sort of wild accusation either. I’ve seen federal INS detainers placed on United States citizens. Combining the first names Juan, Jose, Miguel, Manuel, etc. with the last names Diaz, Lopez, Hernandez, Rodriguez, etc. is the most likely way for ICE to ‘suspect’ someone may be undocumented.

Oh, and by the way, how long does it take to remove an unlawful INS detainer from a U.S. citizen? Several extra days in jail, at least. Sometimes longer.