In an emergency bill aimed at sidestepping congressional approval, Allen has asked the D.C. Council to ban city agencies from providing information to ICE agents or allowing them to enter facilities run by the D.C. Department of Corrections — unless the federal agency can produce a warrant or judicial order.
As the Trump administration continues its crackdown on immigrant communities with regular raids in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods and at work sites around the country and a fast-track deportation process meant to bypass immigration judges, local governments have increasingly acted to protect undocumented residents.
“We say we’re a sanctuary city, and we mean it in so many ways. But we should not be complicit in the Trump administration and how they treat our immigrant friends and neighbors,” Allen said. “I hope this is something our entire city can get around and support. But at the end of the day, it’s really just about doing the right thing.”
When an individual is arrested, officers enter personal information, including fingerprints, into an FBI database at the National Crime Information Center. Based on that information, if immigration officials determine a person is in the country illegally, ICE may ask local law enforcement to detain the person until ICE agents can pick him or her up
But multiple courts have ruled that these ICE detainers are requests, not orders. Many cities and some states have passed laws ordering their agencies to refuse to comply.
In 2012, the District became one of the first municipalities in the country to limit its cooperation with ICE by vowing it wouldn’t turn over arrestees to federal immigration agents unless that person was deemed violent or dangerous.
D.C. agencies are legally allowed to hold individuals for a day past their scheduled date of release if certain criteria are met, including proof of prior convictions and a written agreement that the federal government would reimburse D.C. for the cost of the extra day. D.C. corrections officers may also give ICE a 48-hour warning before releasing an arrestee for whom an ICE detainer has been issued.
Allen said the District has a responsibility to do more to protect its immigrant residents.
“I talked to a number of our immigrant — both documented and undocumented — neighbors,” Allen said. “And the fear they expressed and shared with me, the stories they told me — they’re not feeling safe in our city.”
Instead of requesting that law enforcement agencies hold individuals for immigration agents, ICE has changed its strategy. Agents now routinely ask for information about arrestees’ release, including location, dates, times and a home address where the person is expected to return.
From 2016 to 2019, the D.C. Department of Corrections turned over 43 immigrants to immigration agents, according to a report in the Washington City Paper.
The “DOC has assisted in the detention of many more individuals after their release from DOC by notifying ICE of release dates and times,” says Allen’s emergency resolution. “Collaborating with ICE, including by complying with detainer requests, does not promote public safety. ICE has created an unsafe, fearful environment for the District’s immigrant residents. When the District cooperates with ICE, trust in District agencies by the immigrant community erodes, and public safety is compromised.”
The bill also explicitly bans ICE from entering D.C. facilities, including the jail, juvenile justice facilities and St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Allen’s emergency measure, which will be reviewed by the D.C. Council at its Oct. 8 meeting, requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. Co-sponsoring the bill are council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
Immigrant rights advocates are optimistic about its chances.
“What we see in our community is that they’re not really living their best life. They’re existing and walking with fear. They’re going to school with fear,” said Claudia Quiñonez, a youth organizer with immigrant rights group United We Dream. “Having this bill be introduced and possibly become law would essentially mean . . . they would no longer have to simply exist — they could thrive.”
The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of an announcement from the D.C. mayor’s office that a legal aid fund meant to help immigrants in the District would be expanded — from $900,000 to $2.5 million — and made available to immigrants who have been detained.
For years, activists been calling for more robust immigrant protections from the D.C. government.
“This emergency legislation is a significant step forward,” said Gaurav Madan, an organizer with Sanctuary DMV. “We’re hopeful that it will help make D.C. a safer place — not just for immigrants but for everyone.”
ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Allen’s bill. But earlier this week, Matthew Albence, the agency’s acting director, lambasted sanctuary cities that refuse to help deport immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
“This needs to stop,” he said during a news conference at the White House. “Work with us. Find a way that we can jointly prevent murderers, pedophiles, rapists, drug dealers and domestic abusers from being released back into our communities. It’s plain and simple.”
Allen said he was unbothered by drawing the ire of Trump administration officials.
Earlier this year, the White House attempted to pressure Homeland Security officials into releasing detainees onto the streets of “sanctuary cities” to alleviate a shortage of detention facilities and also serve to send a message to Trump’s political rivals.
“We’re talking about a president who has open destain for this city, who doesn’t pay his bills to this city,” Allen said, referring to a $6 million deficit incurred by the District for expenses related to the president’s refashioned Fourth of July celebration this summer as well as his 2017 inauguration. “We’re a target already. I don’t see how this would all of a sudden be different.”