(AP Photo)

A federal judge this week became the latest to rule that a key aspect of the federal government’s deportation machine is unconstitutional.

The United States District Court for the Central District of California ruled that both the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department unlawfully detained thousands of suspected immigrants through requests known as “immigration detainers.”

The vast majority of the 38,000 immigrants in ICE custody today have been transferred to federal custody from local law enforcement agencies using detainers. (These are requests ICE sends to local authorities asking them to hold immigrants after their release date so ICE can decide if it wants to take them into custody or not.)

The decision issued in Roy v. County of Los Angeles and Gonzalez v. ICE held the sheriff’s department liable for violating the Fourth Amendment rights of thousands of inmates it jailed after they were supposed to be released.

Immigrant rights advocates are calling the week’s ruling a landmark decision because it is the first-class action lawsuit to cover thousands of people who were locked up after their release date. At least ten other state and federal courts have found key aspects of ICE’s detainer system to be unconstitutional or in violation of federal and state statutes, but previous decisions were more limiting because they focused on individual plaintiffs.

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“This decision makes clear to local police, that under any circumstance, it’s illegal to hold anyone under an immigration detainer,” said Jessica Karp, litigation director with the National Day Labor Organizing Network, one of the immigrant rights groups who brought the case.

In a statement on Friday, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, which helped bring the suit, said thousands of people covered under the class action may be entitled to monetary damages.