Deadly Policies: Activist groups are hindering immigration law enforcement across the nation
By Michael Volpe, Organization Trends, August 2014 (PDF here)
County sheriffs in charge of the nation’s jails are increasingly reluctant to respect the federal government’s requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants. The official requests, known as “detainers,” are issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In most jails, the processing of new inmates involves running their fi ngerprints through a federal database to ascertain their immigration status. DHS flags detainees suspected of being in the U.S. illegally and sends out detainer documents that local sheriffs have traditionally treated as warrants requiring them to keep the individuals in custody. But many local officials these days won’t keep illegal immigrants under lock and key, waiting until ICE retrieves them for possible removal from the U.S. Jailers used to think of immigration detainers as mandatory, but several key court decisions have made clear to local law enforcement that the detainers are mere requests by ICE.
Although detainers have been around for a long time, their use has proliferated under an ICE program known as Secure Communities. That program consists of a computer software system that connects federal agencies like ICE, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service with local police departments. In jurisdictions that participate in the program, it facilitates access to data on individuals booked in local prisons. Left-wing activists complain that Secure Communities has led to the proliferation of arrests for minor offenses like speeding, because when local police book suspects, they share the booking information with ICE.
Detainers are valid for up to two days (excluding weekends and holidays) and exhort jailers to keep in custody illegal immigrants who are otherwise scheduled for release, so ICE can claim them and process them for deportation. If ICE does not take custody after 48 hours, the local law enforcement agency is required to release the individual.