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Report: Big City Governments Look to Limit Deportations; Illegal Immigrants Languish in Jails Waiting for ICE

Report: Big City Governments Look to Limit Deportations; Illegal Immigrants Languish in Jails Waiting for ICE

Many American cities are ignoring the federal government’s requests to hand over illegal immigrants, claiming that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) detainers that ask local law enforcement agencies to hold violators are creating a financial burden. 

ICE can detain immigrants who are booked in local jails if they have committed criminal or immigration offenses that would cause their deportation. Local law enforcement agencies have been asked to hold violators longer so they can be transferred to ICE custody.

Cities as far apart as Miami, San Diego, and Chicago are not cooperating with ICE regarding the requests; last week, the New York City Council passed legislation preventing police from cooperating with ICE to transfer immigrants without a judge-issued warrant.  Over 250 municipalities have been balking at the ICE requests in recent years.

Peter L. Markowitz, director of the Karen O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at New York City’s Yeshiva University, commented, “We are seeing something of a national movement here, where cities and states are robustly rejecting the federal government’s mass deportation policies as adverse to their own interests. We see states and cities as frustrated as immigrants themselves with the inability of Congress to enact meaningful immigration reform.”

ICE regulations say immigrants must be released after 48 hours once the date passes that they would otherwise have been released from jail. Yet many immigrants have been held past their release dates, and local governments have to pay the cost to hold them. Immigration advocates say ICE often lacks probable cause to charge an immigrant with being deportable when it issues a detainer. 

Cities have balked at court decisions holding them responsible for holding immigrants past their release dates, so they have told local police to refuse to honor ICE’s requests. Immigration advocacy groups also complain about ICE, saying they cast too large a net when trying to deport immigrants. One target is the Obama Administration’s Secure Communities program, which lets ICE investigate the immigration status of anyone held in a local jail. Criticism has been leveled that the program has broken up families as well as lowered immigrants’ trust in local law enforcement agencies.

Melissa Keaney, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said, “There’s been case-after-case of documentation on the impact of [Secure Communities] on community trust of police, which is so critical to effective law enforcement. Every story and study has shown that this has a real impact on people’s willingness to contact police when they are victims or witnesses to a crime.”

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last May he would reexamine the Secure Communities program, but that review has been on hold.


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