(photo:Department of Homeland Security/Wikimedia Commons)
Los Angeles, by virtue of its size, became on Monday the largest city in California to stop cooperating with federal requests to incarcerate undocumented immigrants beyond their release dates without judicial authorization.
L.A. follows about 100 municipalities across the country, including the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside, that have cited a ruling by U.S. District Judge Janice M. Stewart in an Oregon case three months ago that essentially said the detainees could not be held in jail solely for the purpose of deportation.
In May, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion. Like Stewart, the court suggested that ICE detainers were requests, not orders, and local entities could be at legal risk for holding people without judicial approval.
The Obama administration announced in November 2012 that it would no longer target immigrants arrested for minor crimes for deportation. But like its avowed policy to tread softly on the burgeoning medical marijuana, aggressive law enforcement to the contrary has continued.
Within days of Judge Stewart’s decision, nine Oregon counties stopped honoring requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hang on to suspected illegals until the feds can get to them. Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago’s Cook County and Newark, New Jersey are among those that joined in.
The person before Judge Stewart’s court had been detained for 19 hours by law enforcement without any judicial order to do so. The detainer is supposed to last for a couple days, but they’ve been known to stretch out much longer. ICE says it needs the time to determine if the detainee is a serious criminal, but critics argue that the process is used for mass deportations of people whose only crime was being in the country illegally.
Local law enforcement officials argue that ICE detainers ruin relations with the community, who regard them as more concerned about deportations that reducing crime. While anti-immigration activists regard the undocumented folks as a criminal threat, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck told a joint press conference with Mayor Eric Garcetti that isn’t the case: “People ask—will this affect crime in Los Angeles? My answer is no.”
Beck said his department has honored 309 of the 773 requests for detention from ICE since January. LAPD hangs on to suspects for 72 hours before shipping them to county lockups. L.A. County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nashida told Andrew Blankstein at NBC that ICE sends over two buses a day to pick up inmates.
The change in LAPD policy does not mean the federal government won’t be taking a look at the department’s arrestees. ICE can still check the fingerprints of everyone booked, but if they find something they don’t like and want the police to detain them, they need to get a warrant or a “judicial determination of probable cause.”