The Washington Post

Bill will make it harder to detain suspected illegal immigrants

All 13 D.C. Council members are co-sponsoring a bill to restrict the city’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration officials by making it more difficult to detain suspected illegal immigrants.

Under the bill introduced Tuesday, the Department of Corrections can only detain suspected illegal immigrants who have previous convictions for violent crime.

And even then, according to the legislation, a suspect would be released after 24 hours if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials fail to pick them up.

“What we are saying is we want to maintain the bright line between what federal immigration officials do and what our local police do,” said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), the chief sponsor of the legislation. “We have for years tried to maintain that bright line. We want local police dedicated to crime solving in the District of Columbia and we don’t want to create mistrust with our immigrant populations.”

Mendelson said his bill, modeled after similar proposals in New York and Chicago, would be an official break between the city and federal officials over the new Secure Communities program.

Being rolled out nationwide, the program is designed to bolster cooperation between local and federal officials to try to combat some crimes associated with illegal immigration. But some local officials complain the program hampers relationships with local immigrant populations.

The D.C. council is moving to enact legislation addressing those concerns even though Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed an executive order last month reaffirming the District’s stance that city agencies will not fully cooperate with ICE.

Under Gray’s order, D.C. police and corrections officials will not ask those they come in contact with about their immigration status. District police also will not enforce an ICE detainer or warrant issued against someone who has not committed another crime.

Police and jail officials are forbidden from contacting ICE to have the agency investigate the legal status of someone who has been arrested.

If ICE determines that it wants to detain offenders upon their release from jail, the agency will have only 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, to pick up a suspected illegal immigrant from custody.

Mendelson concedes his proposal further restricts the window that would be available to ICE, but said he worries that city jails are already over crowded.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.


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