Talking Points: Why States Should Separate Local Policing From Immigration Enforcement

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement is legal.

  • ICE detainers are simply requests. It is not mandatory for local law enforcement to honor immigration detainers; when and whether to do so is discretionary.[1]
  • State legislatures, cities, counties, and local law enforcement departments are permitted to make their own decisions about when to hold someone under an ICE detainer.
  • Jurisdictions across the country are exercising their discretion in different ways. Some do not ever honor ICE detainers. Others only hold individuals when certain criteria are met, such as when individuals have already been convicted of a serious crime; when ICE has agreed to reimburse for all costs of detainer compliance; when the individual is over 18; or when a court order or criminal warrant has been issued.[2]

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement promotes public safety.

  • Holding people at the request of ICE erodes trust between the community and local law enforcement, undermining public safety efforts.
  • Compliance with detainers deters immigrants from interacting with the police, including reporting crimes, because they fear immigration consequences.[3]
  • Honoring detainers diverts scarce law enforcement personnel and other resources from preventing crime and protecting the public. 

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement is fiscally responsible.

  • Police often hold individuals longer than 48 hours - sometimes weeks or months longer - and judges frequently deny bail because of the existence of a detainer. When states hold immigrants at the federal government’s request, it costs local taxpayers millions of dollars.[4]
  • State and local law enforcement agencies are not reimbursed by the federal government for the full cost of tracking and responding to detainers.
  • Immigration law is a complex and technical area – requiring local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents requires costly training.
  • Complying with ICE detainers raises serious constitutional concerns and may expose participating localities to costly litigation.

Separating local policing from immigration enforcement promotes family unity and human dignity.

  • Detainers are often issued for individuals with minor or no criminal convictions. As a result, hardworking members of our community are deported and thousands of children are separated from their parents.
  • When families are broken apart, communities are also destroyed.  In order to promote strong families and communities, local law enforcement must disentangle itself from ICE.
  • Our Catholic tradition teaches us to protect and respect human dignity, regardless of immigration status. It is unjust and an affront to human dignity to divide families by deporting longtime law abiding residents who work hard to earn a living and contribute to society.

[1] What ICE Isn’t Telling You About Detainers, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, available at:

[2] A complete list of state and local laws and policies on detainer compliance is available at:

[3] A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that, in jurisdictions where police enforce immigration laws, 44% of Latinos said they would be less likely to call the police if they became a crime victim.

[4] For example, in Los Angeles County, taxpayers spend over $26 million per year to detain immigrants for ICE. Statewide, California taxpayers spend approximately $65 million annually responding to ICE detainers.


This summary was prepared in April 2014 with assistance from Legal Fellow, Kassandra Haynes.  It is intended for informational purposes, not as legal advice. For questions, please contact CLINIC’s State and Local Advocacy Attorney, Jen Riddle, at or (301) 565-4807.