Federal immigration authorities quietly announced a new policy just before Christmas that promises to ease conflicts with local law enforcement agencies while targeting violent criminals for deportation.
The new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency policy mirrors what was promised four years ago when the Secure Communities program was launched. ICE will review fingerprints from people arrested by local police, and it will seek custody of people believed to be in the United States illegally if they have committed a serious crime or are repeat offenders.
In practice, ICE has detained and deported thousands of people with no criminal record or who have been arrested for petty offenses such as traffic violations. In Sonoma County, 47 percent of the people turned over to immigration agents in the first year of the program hadn’t been convicted of the crimes that landed them in jail.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently advised sheriffs and police chiefs that they aren’t required to detain people who don’t otherwise pose a threat to the community, regardless of any request from the federal government. Some of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies already were refusing many ICE requests, saying the threat of detention and deportation was discouraging people from reporting crimes or cooperating with investigations.
Authorities in several states have tried to withdraw from the program, complaining that it had grown far beyond the original objective and was undermining local law enforcement.
Until now, ICE resisted any change. But in a statement issued Dec. 21, ICE director John Morton echoed some of the complaints made by local law enforcement agencies. He said the federal agency was “setting priorities” and aiming to “maximize public safety” by better targeting its efforts.
At the same time, ICE is ending the partnerships that empowered some local law enforcement agencies — most notoriously Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Ariz. — to enforce immigration laws.