By far, one of the most contentious immigration law issues here in the state of California is immigration detainers. In particular, the majority of the dialogue on this topic is devoted to participation in Secure Communities, the federal immigration detention/deportation program that is now in effect in every county in the state
For those unfamiliar with Secure Communities, it is a computerized program that went into effect back in 2008 that links participating local jails with a federal database.
Specifically, anyone who is booked into local jails has their background/profile run through a database maintained by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to uncover potential immigration violations. If a violation is discovered, ICE officials will ask the local jail to detain the individual(s) until they can be transferred to federal custody.
While touted as a method of capturing violent, repeat criminals, critics here in California have long argued that the program is nothing more than a dragnet for capturing and deporting undocumented -- and largely innocent -- immigrants.
Interestingly, the clamor against Secure Communities officially went up another notch last week following the release of a legal opinion by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, indicating that California's local jails are not legally required to participate in Secure Communities.
"Under the principles of federalism, neither Congress nor the federal executive branch can require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense," reads the opinion. "If such detainers were mandatory, forced compliance would constitute the type of commandeering of state resources forbidden by the Tenth Amendment."
Just a short time after the release of this opinion, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced that his department would no longer perform immigration detainers for low-level offenders, a step taken by the LAPD back in October. In other words, they will only hold those detainees with felony convictions for federal immigration officials.
Here, the reasoning of both departments is that extensive participation with Secure Communities hampers their enforcement efforts and expends already limited resources.
However, it's not just law enforcement agencies here in Southern California that are entertaining serious doubts about Secure Communities. Just last week, leaders of the California State Sheriff's Association met with Governor Jerry Brown to examine the ways in which local law enforcement can and should participate with Secure Communities.
Interestingly, Governor Brown indicated at this meeting that his office is currently working on legislation to address the problem.
In all likelihood, this legislation will be probably similar to The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (TRUST Act) that was vetoed by Governor Brown this fall.
The Trust Act would have mandated that law enforcement agencies throughout California only hold those immigrants who have previously been convicted by the state of a serious or violent felony for ICE officials.
At the time of the veto, Brown indicated that while he was generally supportive of federal immigration reform, the Trust Act could not be signed into law as it was "fatally flawed." Specifically, its list of felonies failed to include many serious crimes, including child abuse, weapons violations and drug trafficking.
Stay tuned for updates our Los Angeles County immigration law blog ...
If you are facing immigration detention or have already been detained on an immigration-related matter, an experienced lawyer can help ensure that your rights and best interests are fully protected.
This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The Sacramento Bee, "Local jails may limit immigration holds to convicts," Ryan Gabrielson, Dec. 11, 2012