Aug. 23, 2016 03:40 PM
Garber, left, and Neustrom
Submitted Photo

Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber will now detain parish inmates suspected of entering the country illegally upon federal request, a shift that reverses a controversial policy established by his predecessor. Where previous Sheriff Mike Neustrom would not hold inmates past their sentence for federal retrieval without a court order, Garber says his administration will now work actively to release the inmates into federal custody, holding the suspects up to the 48 hour duration guidelined by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.

Garber, whom Neustrom endorsed during last year's election, says the change is not a repudiation of Neustrom’s policy per se, but a do-over of sorts for the working relationship between the LPSO and federal immigration agents. According to Garber, Neustrom’s administration frequently found itself saddled with ICE detainees for longer than the requested time frame, putting the department at legal risk and costing the agency to feed and house them.

“I’m not saying Sheriff Neustrom did anything wrong by this change in his policy,” Garber says, adding that he’s simply taking a different approach.

Garber says that his office met with ICE recently to discuss the change in policy and clarify the relationship going forward. On his view, an ICE detainer request constitutes probable cause to hold suspected immigration offenders, even if they've completed sentenced jail time for whatever crime landed them in LPCC in the first place.

Local police departments do not have the jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration policy, a fact often glossed over by critics who believe local agencies should work to combat illegal immigration in the communities they serve.

At issue here is the pesky “sanctuary city” designation which Lafayette dubiously received last year from anti-immigration think-tank Center for Immigration studies.

During his campaign, Garber publicly derided his opponent Scott Police Chief Chad Leger's citation of CIS statistics and press materials as fear-mongering. The sanctuary city designation, and illegal immigration at large, figured prominently into campaign debates in which Garber defended his predecessor’s policy as a sensible way to protect the parish from litigation, keep LPCC unclogged and avoid stretching LPSO’s thin resources.

While not an official federal designation of any sort, the CIS uses the term broadly to describe any police agency or municipality that CIS believes obstructs the apprehension and deportation of suspected illegal immigrants. Given the voluntary nature of detainer requests, many of these agencies choose policies which, similar to LPSO’s, are federally compliant and serve to insulate them from civil liability in the case an offender is later discovered to be in the country legally.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and state lawmakers have sought and supported legislation that would block federal or state funds from jurisdictions that don’t comply with federal immigration policy. Both LPSO and the Lafayette Police Department were notified that the sanctuary city designation, applied to them only on the merit of CIS advocacy, could block the agencies’ from receiving federal grant money which Garber says could have been used to pay for new computers or upgraded body armor.

Garber says his office issued a cease and desist letter in July demanding CIS remove Lafayette Parish from its standing list of sanctuary cities. While CIS already noted Garber's updated policy on its blog, the persisting label threatens Lafayette law enforcement's access to federal funds by way of undue influence on right-wing lawmakers.