The Department of Homeland Security is vowing to release a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and the local law enforcement agencies that failed to comply with the feds' requests to detain them for deportation. The first list came out on March 20 and — surprise! — the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff's Department were among several California jurisdictions included.

Facing a conundrum in California, where local law enforcement has yet to get behind the White House plan to ramp up deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to be resorting to a public shame campaign.

On March 24, ICE issued a new policy that requests local law enforcement hold an inmate for as long as 48 hours beyond the court-ordered release date, so that ICE can assume custody for removal purposes. The new policy states that an “administrative warrant” will accompany all future detainer requests. Legal advocates say there is a gulf between the requirement for a judicial warrant, issued by a judge, and an administrative warrant, which is signed by an ICE officer. They say the latter doesn't authorize holding anyone.

“The bottom line is we don't keep anyone past the normal release date,” says Nicole Nishida, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department. “That's it, period. That’s our policy.”

Asked for comment, Virginia Kice, Western regional spokeswoman for ICE, relayed the following statement: “DHS has not retreated from its position that detainers serve as a legally authorized request, upon which a law enforcement agency may rely, to continue to maintain custody of the alien for up to 48 hours so that ICE may assume custody for removal purposes.”

Without the cooperation of local law enforcement, ICE will be short-handed as it seeks to deliver on President Trump's promise to expand enforcement operations and remove millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

A crowd of about 200 protesters rallied in front of L.A. Sheriff's Department headquarters last week in support of Senate Bill 54, which would impose strict separation between local law enforcement and ICE.; Credit: Jason McGahan

A crowd of about 200 protesters rallied in front of L.A. Sheriff's Department headquarters last week in support of Senate Bill 54, which would impose strict separation between local law enforcement and ICE.; Credit: Jason McGahan

ICE has rescinded the deportation protocol introduced under President Obama that made serious criminal offenders a priority for removal. Next week, ICE will start issuing a new style of detainer request to local law enforcement. Conspicuously absent from the federal form is the previous checkbox stating the reason why the individual poses a threat to public safety.

“They needed a new form to implement dragnet deportation,” says Jessica Bansal, litigation director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and an attorney representing immigrants in a class-action suit against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. “There is no requirement anymore to think about if a person is actually a threat to public safety, so they took that part off the form.”

Effective April 2, a “match” in the ICE database confirming that an individual is removable under immigration law will be all the probable cause required for issuing an ICE detainer and initiating removal proceedings, according to the latest agency memo. Identifying a person who can be removed shouldn't be too difficult; when someone is booked in a local jail, the inmate's name and fingerprints are stored in a Department of Justice database to which ICE has access.

Legal advocates say scare tactics and criminalization of immigrants are part and parcel of the White House's approach to immigration enforcement.

“This idea — that [local law enforcement] declining detainers is a public safety threat — that ICE is trying to put out there is purely a fear-mongering tactic,” Bansal says. “It is purely a way to talk about immigrants as criminals. That’s what they're trying to do.”

Sheriff's departments throughout California have been careful not to hold most inmates on ICE detainers following a court ruling in 2015 that found a detainer doesn't authorize local law enforcement to keep anyone beyond his or her court-ordered release date.

In California, local law enforcement can comply with ICE detainers only for inmates who have been arrested for certain serious or violent crimes or who have prior convictions for certain crimes.

A spokesman for the LAPD declined to comment on the latest ICE memo, saying the department is working on a statement in response. Chief Charlie Beck has previously said it is not the job of police officers to help the federal government detain undocumented immigrations for deportation.

Several studies, over many years, have found that the rate of crime committed by immigrants has always been far less than the rate committed by U.S. citizens. Nor do undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.

“They are trying to frame this as a public safety issue rather than an immigration enforcement issue,” Bansal says, “which is wrong and misleading for many reasons.”

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