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Controversy Surrounds LAPD’s New Immigration Policy

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck recently announced that the department would refuse to turn certain arrestees over to federal immigration attorneys.                      



“The policy has proven controversial, not only due to its potential impact on the city but also its possible violation of federal law,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis. 



The Secure Communities Program requires fingerprints obtained during booking to be sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While these fingerprints are already sent to the FBI, ICE may check them against databases to identify deportable undocumented immigrants. 



When ICE discovers that local law enforcement has an undocumented immigrant in custody, it may issue an Immigration Detainer Form (Form 1-247), thereby informing the agency that ICE intends to take custody of the individual. 



The policy of the LADP has always been to honor ICE detainer requests. In early October, however, Chief Beck announced that the Department would be instituting a new policy beginning on January 1, 2013. Under the new policy, the LAPD will no longer honor detainer requests for undocumented immigrants who are arrested for certain low-grade misdemeanors or public nuisance offenses. Those who are arrested for and charged with drunk driving, violent crimes, or felonies will still be detained. Individuals suspected of being involved with gangs and those with prior felony records will also be detained in response to an ICE request. 



This new policy is expected to impact around 400 of the approximately 3,400 ICE detainer requests that the LAPD gets each year. The estimates on how many detainer requests will not be honored are derived from a six-month internal study conducted by the LAPD. 



Considering the New LAPD Policy 



Chief Beck indicated that the decision to institute a new policy was made because it is not the job of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration rules. Further, he stated in a press conference that he doesn’t want to be the cause of parents being uprooted from their children since he believes that strong families can help prevent crime.  



Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke out in favor of the new policy, indicating that it would help to keep families together and could improve the relationship between police and the immigrant community. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles was also in favor of the LAPD’s decision. 



However, not everyone supports the change. A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) stated that the LAPD was ignoring federal law. The spokesman also stated that the new policy was a political move as well as a response to a recent veto by Governor Jerry Brown of the Trust Act.  The Trust Act was a bill that would have stopped law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants in response to a federal request unless the individuals were charged with violent or serious crimes.  



The Legality of the LAPD’s Actions



According to Chief Beck, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich issued the opinion that police have the discretion to decline detainer requests. A spokesman for Trutanich, however, refused to release his ruling authorizing the LAPD to decline to honor requests, citing attorney client privilege. 



When Cook County made a similar decision as the LAPD in January, ICE Director John Morton expressed concerns about the choice to ignore detainer requests. Morton indicated that public safety would be undermined and that federal agencies would have a more difficult time enforcing immigration laws. Further, Morton also indicated that the Cook County decision could be in violation of federal law.  



While some are strong proponents of the new LAPD policy, vocal opinions have raised one very important problem: Chief Beck has taken on a role of setting immigration policy that should belong to lawmakers and elected legislators. Chief Beck’s job as the head of the Los Angeles Police Department is to follow and enforce state and federal law, and whether his new policy on refusing to detain immigrants is good or bad, it is not a decision that should be made by one local police chief. 



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