By Jen Riddle
Despite President Obama’s stated support for comprehensive immigration reform, the Administration has removed a record number of individuals (1.5 million  during his first term alone). In Fiscal Year 2012, for example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 409,849  individuals compared with 291,060  deportations in FY 2007. Many deported immigrants come to the attention of ICE through its partnerships with local law enforcement agencies such as Secure Communities . Under Secure Communities, fingerprints taken by local police when booking an individual charged with a state or local crime are checked against federal immigration databases. If ICE has reason to believe that the arrested individual may be removable, it can issue an immigration detainer asking the local law enforcement agency to continue to hold that individual for up to 48 hours to give ICE a chance to place the person into immigration custody – regardless of whether the person was ever convicted of a crime. Although immigration detainers are merely requests - not mandatory - local law enforcement agents often comply. The result is the deportation of increasing numbers of innocent, law-abiding immigrants. According to recently released data , only 14% of the detainers ICE issued in FY 2012 and during the first four months of FY 2013 “target[ed] individuals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security” while approximately half implicated individuals with “no record of criminal conviction, not even a minor traffic violation.”
Accompanying the increase in removals is an increase in the number of states and localities that are refusing to do the federal government’s job of enforcing immigration laws. Among the concerns cited by policymakers are burdens on limited local resources; the undermining of public safety; the destruction of trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities; the separation of families; and the questionable constitutionality of ICE detainers. Over the past few months, three cities and one state have adopted policies restricting the extent to which law enforcement may continue to detain individuals to hand over to ICE.
The Sheriff of Orleans Parish in Louisiana announced  on August 14, 2013, that his office will only comply with ICE detainers when they involve individuals charged with specific violent felonies. The Sheriff’s office also stated that it will no longer initiate investigations into the immigration status of individuals in its custody. This policy is “one of the farthest-reaching of its kind in the country.”  The new guidance followed a unanimous New Orleans City Council resolution  urging the Sheriff to stop honoring ICE detainers entirely. It is also part of a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit filed by two immigrant workers who were held unconstitutionally on the basis of ICE detainers for 90 and 160 days beyond the conclusion of their criminal sentences. New Orleans is the first locality in the Southern U.S. to implement an anti-detainer policy.
Newark, New Jersey also recently announced  that it will cease complying with ICE requests to hold suspects accused of minor crimes such as shoplifting or vandalism. Advocates for the new policy directive, signed by Newark’s Police Director on July 24, 2013, included the Newark Archdiocese’s Department of Social Concerns and several Newark churches. Reverend Karl Esker of St. James Church acknowledged the role of local law enforcement in “funnel[ing] immigrants into the detention and deportation dragnet through problematic information-sharing initiatives that devastate the stability of communities.” He commended  the Newark Police Director for his leadership on this issue and called the policy “absolutely essential in a city…. [w]here trust between local law enforcement and the community is crucial to protecting public safety.”
Most recently, the town of Mesilla, New Mexico (approximately 50 miles north of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico) passed a resolution directing the Marshal’s Department not to enforce federal immigration laws. According to the Mesilla Marshal’s Department , the resolution serves more as a political statement since the department’s policy for the past 3 years has been not to get involved in issues involving a person’s immigration status, but to refer any such investigation to federal authorities.
Other local jurisdictions with similar policies include San Miguel and Taos counties in New Mexico; San Francisco  and Santa Clara counties in California; Cook and Champaign counties in Illinois; Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Multnomah County, Oregon; and the cities of Washington, D.C., Chicago, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and New York.
In addition to the growing number of cities and counties choosing not to enforce ICE detainers, state legislatures are increasingly exploring adopting such policies on a state-wide level. In June, Connecticut became the first state to adopta state-level anti-detainer law by enacting the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act . Starting January 1, 2014, state and local law enforcement agents will be permitted to honor immigration detainers only when the requested individual has a felony conviction, is on a terrorist watch list, is a known member of a violent gang, already has an outstanding order of removal or deportation, or presents an unacceptable risk to public safety. On September 12, California joined Connecticut by passing its own TRUST Act (AB 4).  The bill permits local or state law enforcement officials to continue to hold an individual under an ICE detainer only if the individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony or one of 31 other enumerated offenses including child abuse, rape, burglary, kidnapping, hate crimes, controlled substance and weapons offenses, and others. Over 96,800  Californians have been deported as a result of Secure Communities -- more than from any other state. Last December, California’s Attorney General instructed local law enforcement that participation in Secure Communities was optional given that the program increased distrust of police among immigrant communities and targeted non-criminal immigrants. California taxpayers spend an estimated $65 million  each year detaining immigrants for ICE. According to the TRUST Act’s sponsor and author, Assembly member Tom Ammiano , “Immigrants want to live in safe communities but when trivial issues such as selling tamales without a permit or having barking dogs…can turn into extended detention and deportation, confidence and trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities is eroded…It doesn’t make sense to deport an undocumented Californian today who could be on the road to citizenship tomorrow.”
CLINIC has updated its tool kit that provides an overview of ICE partnerships with local law enforcement agencies including the Criminal Alien Program, the Secure Communities Program, and the 287(g) Program. The toolkit also recommends strategies for communities to advocate against the implementation and continuation of these programs.
  The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering an ordinance that would place a total prohibition on general immigration holds, including those issued against convicted felons.