Homeland Security Adjusts Priorities for Identifying Illegal Immigrants

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security will rein in a controversial program that deputizes state and local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws by targeting illegal immigrants who commit major drug or violent crimes, Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday.

Civil liberties groups and immigrant advocates have alleged that some police officials have engaged in racial profiling, using their authority to conduct indiscriminate traffic stops or neighborhood sweeps aimed at Latinos and other ethnic groups.

In May, Congress's audit arm faulted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for improperly supervising the enforcement program. It cited cases in which police arrested illegal immigrants for minor infractions such as speeding or urinating in public.

ICE officials said 66 participating agencies, which receive federal grant dollars for their participation, will have 90 days to accept new terms or be dropped from the program.

The newly stated purpose of the program is to catch "criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or danger to the community," ICE said. The changes set priorities for the identification of illegal immigrants who are convicted of or arrested for, respectively, major drug or violent crimes; then, those involving minor drug or property crimes; and those linked with other crimes.

Critics said the changes will undermine local efforts to help enforce federal immigration laws.

"This is another example of the administration making it harder to find and deport illegal immigrants," said Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

For example, the new rules require that participating agencies commit agents to perform immigration duties for at least two years and to pursue all charges filed against illegal immigrants to their completion, he said.

"It is counterproductive to bully them now with this kind of ultimatum," Smith said.

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