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California bill seeks to limit detention of arrestees facing deportation

Legislation would counter Secure Communities program by limiting local law enforcement's role in holding people for immigration authorities.

January 28, 2012|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times
  • Immigrant-rights advocates protest in Los Angeles.
Immigrant-rights advocates protest in Los Angeles. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

A bill being drafted by a state legislator would limit local law enforcement from holding arrestees on behalf of immigration authorities seeking to deport them.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said he is finalizing amendments to a bill that would be the first statewide measure to counter the Secure Communities enforcement program, which requires law enforcement agencies to forward to immigration authorities the fingerprints of all arrestees booked into local jails.

If those authorities identify a candidate for deportation, they can issue a detainer, which asks the agency to hold them beyond the time when they would normally be released so immigration agents can take custody. The program has come under fire because many of those ensnared have never been convicted of crimes or are low-level offenders.

"States have their own ways of fighting back," Ammiano said. "We can't stand by and let innocent people, food vendors, etc., be caught up in sweeps, assume they're guilty of some violent offense and then deport them and separate them from their families."

Although the exact language is not yet finalized, the legislation would be similar to policies in Cook County, Ill., and Santa Clara County that instruct law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with certain detainer requests, the assemblyman said. The restrictions will probably be introduced in the spring as an amendment to AB 1081, known as the Trust Act, which attempted to allow local law enforcement to opt out of the fingerprint program and had ample support in the Assembly last year.

Local policies limiting detainers have generated a great deal of controversy. John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recently wrote to the Cook County Board of Commissioners to warn them that their rules may be in violation of federal law.

Ammiano called Morton's letter "posturing" and said federal authorities were attempting to trump the will of the people.

In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said immigration holds are necessary to protect the public.

"Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society," Navas said. "Jurisdictions that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks."

Immigrant advocates argue that law enforcement agencies are unduly burdened by holding people who are not charged with crimes, are eligible to post bond or have been ordered released by a judge.

"For localities, Secure Communities amounts to an unfunded mandate that creates all kinds of dilemmas for local law enforcement," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "All of this impedes local law enforcement's ability to perform their primary responsibility, which is to ensure a community's safety."

As originally introduced, the Trust Act would have given California counties a way to avoid Secure Communities by amending a state agreement with ICE. It passed the Assembly on a 47 to 26 vote and had been approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee but was put on hold after federal immigration officials announced they were voiding signed agreements with the states and proceeding with nationwide implementation of Secure Communities.

Since then, advocacy groups working with Ammiano's office have met to discuss ways to make the legislation effective, said Angela Chan, staff attorney for the San Francisco based Asian Law Caucus, a legal and civil rights advocacy group.

"Right now is a time to be creative about how we can push back against the imposition of this program on our local communities," she said. "I think everyone recognizes the urgency of this."

Ammiano, members of several advocacy groups and Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco will gather Saturday in San Francisco to provide some details on the legislation and to call on Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris to reform the state's participation in Secure Communities.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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