The circumstances that led to this unusual news conference result from the arrest of a United States citizen at an Allentown construction site, who was accused with Dominican Republic immigrants of being involved in drug activity. He was eventually exonerated. In fact, he made bail soon after his arrest, but the jail refused to release him. This is because ICE had lodged a detainer.
An immigration detainer is a notice that ICE provides to local and state law enforcement officials, informing them of the federal government's intention to take custody of an undocumented alien under local control. It expires after 48 hours. It expired in the Allentown case, too. But it spawned a civil rights lawsuit against the arresting officers, Allentown and Lehigh County.
Lehigh County argued that the ICE detainer left it with no choice but to continue holding this citizen, even though he made bail. But the Third Circuit disagreed, noting that ICE detainers are simply requests.
At his news conference, Morganelli agreed that this citizen has a case, but this exception does not prove the rule. "The fear of litigation ... cannot chill law enforcement in its duty to enforce the law," he argued. Calling illegal immigration a "public safety issue," the DA ticked off numerous examples of crimes committed nearly every day by a majority, just to hide their status. These include identity theft, the fraudulent use of social security numbers, tax evasion and driving without a license. But he is more concerned about serious crime, and provided handouts with numerous examples involving drug distribution, prostitution rings that take advantage of young women and even terrorism.
So he wants those detainers honored. "This is making sure that Northampton County does not become a safe haven for foreign criminals," he reasoned.
Morganelli wants the jail to continue honoring ICE detainers, but acknowledged that is Executive John Brown's call. "He runs the prison, not John Morganelli."
Asked whether he will continue honoring ICE detainers, Executive John Brown said he met with Morganelli and is generally supportive, but just needs a few days to review everything.
Morganelli was asked about Los Angeles and Philadelphia, where ICE detainers are ignored.
"If they want their cities to become magnets for foreign criminals, I have no problem with that," said Morganelli. "I want to send the opposite message."