As a growing number of states and counties end or limit their cooperation with immigration detainers, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday that he is taking a “fresh look” at Secure Communities, a program that started in 2008 that allows local law enforcement to share fingerprints of people booked in jails with federal immigration officials. In theory, Johnson told PBS News Hour that Secure Communities should be a way for local and state authorities to work with federal agents and identify undocumented immigrants who are convicted of crimes and thus considered priorities for removal. But “the program has become very controversial,” Johnson said in the interview. “And I told a group of sheriffs and chiefs that I met with a couple days ago that I thought we needed a fresh start.”
This week, counties in Washington state, California, and Pennsylvania became the most recent to limit when local law enforcement will honor detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. A federal court ruled in April that an Oregon county “violated one woman’s Fourth Amendment rights by holding her for immigration authorities without probable cause,” which spurred the detainer policy changes in several Oregon, Washington, and Colorado counties. The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state joined in altering its policy, announcing that jail staff will not book any person “solely because of an ICE detainer, and must not delay the normally scheduled release of an inmate because of an ICE detainer,” under the new policy, according to the Bellingham Herald. Whatcom Sheriff Bill Elso said the county “does not and has not” booked people in the county jail because of a detainer request, but previously, they had delayed discharging inmates for up to six hours.
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