Photo: Immigration Detention
Advocates for immigrants have gained ground in the last six months in their long fight against a U.S. policy allowing federal immigration officials to screen suspects in local jails. Now they are close to notching their biggest victory yet.
In California, the home of nearly 2.5 million unauthorized immigrants, lawmakers this month once again passed the so-called Trust Act, which would block local police from holding suspects for immigration agents when they would otherwise be free to go.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has until mid-October to decide whether to sign the law. The governor vetoed a similar measure last year because, he said, the proposal did not include enough exceptions for suspects charged with violent crimes. This year legislators worked with the governor’s staff to address Brown’s concerns. Brown has not said publicly whether he will sign it.
Other states, counties and cities across the country also have pushed back against the federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, which has led to the deportation of 280,000 people in nearly five years.
When a person is arrested, local police send fingerprints and other information to U.S. officials so they can determine whether the person in custody is wanted for any other crimes. The Secure Communities initiative allows the federal government to use that information to check a suspect’s immigration status. If immigration officials determine that the suspect is in the country illegally and dangerous, they can ask police to hold the suspect for up to 48 hours until federal agents can bring them into custody.
“We’re finally seeing the tide turning against the idea that it is good to use police as deportation agents,” said Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which supports the local limits.
But Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports tighter controls on immigration, worries the trend will compromise public safety.
“It is definitely concerning, especially for people in these communities. The result is going to be that fewer criminals are going to be removed from the United States,” Vaughn said.
Liberal states and localities have fought Secure Communities since its introduction five years ago.
The latest phase started when the home counties of Chicago and San Jose, Calif., announced two years ago they would only honor the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement “holds” in very narrow circumstances.