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Immigration Holds Plummet In First Year Of California’s Trust Act

Photo by John Moore

The federal immigration detention center in Florence, Ariz., is one of about 250 such facilities around the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is required to house 34,000 immigration detainees per day, nationwide.

California law enforcement officials have granted far fewer requests to hold detained immigrants for federal immigration authorities since the state's Trust Act went into effect this year.

The Trust Act limits the ability of local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants longer than their scheduled release date to give ICE time to take them into custody.

Immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.

San Diego County was among the five counties nationwide with the most federal immigration requests declined, according to newly released ICE data. Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Miami-Dade, FL, were the other four.

In northern California, the number of detainees transferred to ICE custody fell 53 percent during fiscal year 2014, according to ICE. In the Los Angeles area, the number fell by 15 percent. Similar figures weren't available for San Diego, but in fiscal year 2013, immigration authorities requested that 3,020 detainees be transferred to ICE custody from San Diego and Imperial counties.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said earlier this year that it would not hold people past their release date based on an ICE detainer alone.

The numbers are the first time federal immigration authorities have publicly detailed how many times local agencies have refused to comply with their requests. They highlight the friction between the federal government and police and sheriff's departments, some of which say holding immigrants beyond their release dates harms community policing efforts.

In the first eight months of this year, immigration agents filed roughly 105,000 requests for local agencies to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after they were eligible for release on the allegations for which they initially were arrested, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agents wanted the immigrants held so they could take them into federal custody and start deportation proceedings.

Local law enforcement agencies declined 8,800 such requests, also known as detainers, during the same period. Those released include people arrested for investigation of domestic violence and drug charges, as well as others detained on lesser offenses but who had past convictions for crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, Kice said.

Across the country, many local agencies no longer are willing to hold jailed immigrants beyond their scheduled release dates. They say immigrants should not be held longer than U.S citizens for the same crime, and turning them over to ICE creates an atmosphere of distrust among community members.

Colorado stopped honoring detainers earlier this year, and New York City is considering doing the same.

In California, local law enforcement agencies scaled back their collaboration with ICE to comply with the Trust Act. After a federal court in nearby Oregon ruled a woman's constitutional rights were violated when she was held in jail without probable cause, some agencies stopped honoring the requests altogether.

Immigration officials say the denials pose a public safety threat as immigrants who previously would have been placed in federal custody once they were eligible to leave jail are being released into communities where they can commit new crimes.

Five Southern California counties no longer honor ICE's requests, said David Marin, deputy field office director for the agency's enforcement and removal operations in the greater Los Angeles area. He said he's shifted at least 40 agents from screening and transporting arrestees to teams working in the field to track down immigrants they believe are in the country illegally.

It takes more manpower to do so and puts his staff at greater risk, Marin said. And he believes some of the immigrants who are being released will commit new crimes, adding that his agency has filed multiple detainers this year for some immigrants, which indicates they have been re-arrested.

"There's a lot of crimes we could probably prevent if people would just honor our detainers," Marin said. He noted that because of a prison overhaul, local jails in California now house more lower-level felons who previously would have gone to state prison.

In Illinois, a man who was released from jail despite a 2011 request by immigration authorities to detain him shot and killed his 15-year-old girlfriend earlier this year, Kice said.

Some California sheriff's officials, however, say they're simply following the latest law governing the conditions under which anyone, an immigrant or otherwise, can be held by law enforcement.

In Riverside County, Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said the Oregon ruling coupled with an ICE memo indicating the detainers were requests, not requirements, prompted his agency to stop honoring them.

"If we were to honor them, it would expose the county and the department to civil liability," he said. "Any person who is ordered to be released, we would be releasing them the same way."

In San Bernardino County, deputy Ruben Perez said his department has reported no problem with repeat offenders but it might be too soon to tell.

The change is welcomed by immigrant advocates, who have long fought the requests from immigration authorities to continue detaining people after they're eligible for release from jail, whether on bail or at the conclusion of a criminal case.

They say immigrants in communities that honored ICE's requests have been afraid to report crimes, and the policy change will improve, not hamper, public safety.

Chris Newman, legal director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said deportation should not be used as a form of punishment.

"There has been an insidious erosion of constitutional rights protections," he said. "Immigrants and citizens should be treated alike by our criminal justice system."

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