National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Updates Archives

Secure Communities: Just Another – Bigger - Deportation Dragnet

April 29, 2011 - Posted by Lena Graber



Since the inception of ICE’s Secure Communities program, advocates have been raising concerns that the program incentivizes racial profiling and fails to target the “serious criminal offenders” that it was supposedly designed to target.
While DHS has largely ignored these cries, the data is starting to roll in.
According to ICE’s own statistics, more than a quarter (29%) of people removed as a result of the Secure Communities program nationwide have had no criminal convictions.  Moreover, the program’s success in targeting higher level offenders has actually decreased over time, in spite of pronouncements from ICE that they prioritize more serious offenses.  In FY2009, ICE removed 3,744 people under the Secure Communities program with no criminal history.  This was 25.9% of the 14,476 total people removed in that period.  In FY2010, the ratio increased: 27.7% of removals were of individuals without convictions.  From the beginning of FY2011 to date, more than 31% of Secure Communities deportations have been individuals with no criminal history.  In fact, as the program has grown, the rate of removals of people without criminal convictions relative to other deportations has steadily increased.
Taking a closer look, while a few counties may do more targeted enforcement, others use the program as an enormous dragnet for non-citizens.  The proportion of deportees with no criminal convictions is much higher in some areas.
In California, sixty-four percent of deportees identified via Secure Communities in Merced County had no criminal convictions.  In Solano, half of deportees had no criminal record.  In Contra Costa, forty-four percent lacked a criminal history.  In Sonoma, forty-two percent.  And in San Francisco (a so-called “sanctuary city”), forty-six percent of deportees had no criminal history.
In Franklin County, Ohio, more than half the people deported via Secure Communities had no criminal convictions.  In Boston, Massachusetts, non-criminal deportations were also at fifty percent.
Deportations from Secure Communities in Prince George’s county, Maryland were sixty-five percent non-criminals. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, it was seventy-two percent.  It gets even worse: an assessment of the first 49 days of implementation of Secure Communities in New York found that in six out of 11 counties, 100 percent of immigrants identified through Secure Communities had no criminal records.
Moreover, a significant proportion of removals that are counted as “criminal aliens” result from low-level offenses such as trespassing or driving without a license.  A combined 60.3% of removals under Secure Communities across the entire program have been of either individuals without a conviction to their name or individuals with only a misdemeanor conviction.
Now that ICE has decided that no local jurisdictions will be allowed to opt out of the Secure Communities program, how will local jurisdictions be held accountable if they use Secure Communities to funnel large numbers of non-criminals and traffic offenders to ICE?  How will ICE be held accountable when it strays from its deportation priorities and wastes government resources deporting immigrants with no criminal record or minor offenses?
Accountability here is twofold: local law enforcement shouldn’t be hauling in so many traffic offenders to jail when a citation would suffice.  ICE shouldn’t be focusing so much of their removal efforts on low priority immigrants that are identified by the Secure Communities program.  It’s a waste of tax dollars.

There are signs Congress is becoming impatient with ICE.

In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on April 14th, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) expressed concern about the “suboptimal use of scarce government resources in our detention and removal system.”


“Every dollar spent on detention, prosecution and removal of a non-criminal immigrant is a dollar that cannot be spent getting criminal aliens off of our streets and out of our country.”


On the House side, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is angry at ICE for telling her that local governments could “opt out” of Secure Communities, then telling local jurisdictions they had no choice but to participate.


"It is inescapable that the [Department of Homeland Security] was not honest with the local governments or with me….  You can’t have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. This is not OK."


With little sign that Congress will do its job and make common sense changes to the immigration system to facilitate the ability of otherwise law-abiding immigrants to stay and continue to contribute to their communities, the Department of Homeland Security must do a better job delivering on their commitment to prioritize their enforcement efforts.  Otherwise, statistics like those cited above will feed a growing revolt against Secure Communities.

Image: iStockPhoto/labsaslabsas

Interior Enforcement State&Local Enforcement

Policy Update: Congressional Developments for April 2011

April 27, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Congress is still in the midst of a two-week spring recess (or, as they like to call it, “District Work Period”).  Here is a roundup of policy developments from this month.

Hearings in Congress

The Immigration Subcommittee in the House has continued its series of hearings to portray immigrants and immigration in a bad light.

  • For a March 31 hearing, “H-1B Visas: Designing a Program to Meet the Needs of the U.S. Economy and U.S. Workers,” the Forum’s statement pointed out that there is an inadequate supply of immigrant visas in the employment immigration system, and what is really needed is for Congress to update the employment-based immigration system as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

  • An April 5th hearing focused on elimination of the Diversity Lottery visa program, as proposed in H.R. 704, the “SAFE for America Act.”  While it would eliminate visas for the diversity lottery, the Act would not reallocate those visas to relieve backlogs in other categories of immigration.  This is the second time this issue has arisen in this Congress, the first time being as an amendment to H.R. 1 (the House’s introduced version of the FY11 Continuing Resolution).  This is a proposal to reduce legal immigration, and as we pointed out in our statement, by proposing to reduce legal immigration, Congress would create incentives to increase illegal immigration.

  • The last hearing, on April 13th focused on the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program.  Instead of focusing solely on the temporary worker program, Congress should pass AgJOBS, introduced in the last several congresses, to stabilize the agricultural work force.  (See our statement here.)

Meanwhile, there were dueling hearings on Muslims in America.  Peter King (R-NY), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, held a hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response.”  As we noted in our statement, this hearing continued on the theme being pursued by House leaders of pitting one group of Americans against another.  Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.”  In part, as Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, the hearing was called out of concern about the rise of hate groups, and the fact that “some leaders have sought to sow fear and divisiveness against American Muslims.”

Legislation Introduced in Congress

Attack on the American Citizenship Clause: On April 5th, Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Ron Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced a bill that would limit birthright citizenship to children born in the U.S. to at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, legal resident alien or active member of the military.  Although the 14th Amendment of our Constitution guarantees citizenship to persons born in the U.S., Vitter’s bill proposes only to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to limit citizenship.  Vitter’s bill is unlikely to move in the Senate.  For more information on this issue, see Americans for Constitutional Citizenship, led by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights.

For Some Politicians, the Sky is the Limit on Border Spending:  On a day when debate on the Senate floor was dominated by government spending and government debt, the two Senators from Arizona, John McCain (R) and Jon Kyl (R), introduced a border security bill that would require a whole lot more spending on border security.  The Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011, according to a statement on Senator Kyl’s Web site, would require the deployment of at least 6,000 National Guard troops on the U.S. Mexican border; the deployment of 5,000 more Border Patrol agents to the border; more funding for Operation Streamline, Operation Stonegarden, the Southwest Border Prosecutors Initiative, double-layer fencing, and mobile surveillance, aerial surveillance and various infrastructure improvements.  

A companion bill (H.R. 1507) has been introduced in the House by Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who, a few years ago, was a champion of comprehensive immigration reform.

Senator Kyl, in his statement, asks, “shouldn’t the government be working to completely secure the border?”  Over in the House, Representative Ed Royce has introduced the “Keeping the Pledge on Immigration Act of 2011.”  That bill (co-sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith and three other members) would similarly require deployment of the National Guard, until the Secretary of DHS certifies that the government has achieved “operational control” of the border.  The bill defines “operational control” by referencing the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which defines the concept as the prevention of all unlawful entries.  Cost-wise, the prevention of all illegal entries would be prohibitively expensive. Read more about the policy and politics in this blog post from the Forum.  We have also produced a new paper with a helpful explanation of how operational control is looked at in Congress, using the unattainable definition in the Secure Fence Act, versus the Border Patrol’s more practical approach based on risk analysis.  You can download that paper and others from our list of backgrounders on our Web site.

Other Bills: Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced the Strengthen and Unite Communities through Civics Education and English Development (SUCCEED) Act.  The legislation will provide resources to increase capacity to teach America’s newcomers English and help them prepare for citizenship.  It provides for more coordination at the federal level for immigrant integration policies, and it provides assistance to states for their efforts to integrate their immigrant populations. For more information, see this release on Rep. Honda’s Web site.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) reintroduced the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (S. 656, co-sponsored by seven other Senators), which would allow Liberians who had been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the 1990s to apply for permanent residency.  Liberians in the U.S. while civil war was waged in their country gained TPS in the 1990s and have had TPS or another form of relief from deportation extended since then. “Deferred Enforced Departure” (the relief currently granted Liberian refugees) expires on September 30, 2011.  Senator Reed first introduced his bill in 1999, and in every subsequent Congress.  For more information, see this release from Senator Reed’s office.

On April 14th, Representative Jerrold Nadler (with 112 co-sponsors) reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1537).  This bill would allow gays and lesbian citizens to sponsor their permanent partners for U.S. residency.  For more information, see this release from Rep. Nadler’s office.  

On April 12, Representative Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the Domestic Refugee Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act of 2011 (H.R. 1475).  This bill would revise the way the federal government provides funding to states and local resettlement organizations to ensure communities and refugees receive appropriate levels of assistance when refugees are resettled.

Borders Immigration Reform Integration & Citizenship Interior Enforcement Naturalization Workforce Worksite Enforcement

Policy Update: Administrative Developments for April 2011

April 27, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Pressure on Administration to Grant Relief for DREAM-eligible students: A group of 22 Senators—including Majority Leader Harry Reid, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, and Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy—sent a letter on April 13 to President Obama saying that they would support a grant of deferred action for all young people who meet the requirements of the DREAM Act.  They also suggested the Administration use their existing prosecutorial discretion, to make it easier for DREAM-eligible students to apply for deferred action, on a case-by-case basis.  

In a separate letter, Senator Charles Schumer, Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee, sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in which he said that in “an environment where agency funds are decreasing, it is important that the Department of Homeland Security focus its immigration enforcement efforts on terrorists, criminals, and others who impose a real security threat to our nation.”  He asked the Secretary to use her discretion to weigh—on a case-by-case basis—whether it make sense to use scarce detention and removal funds to deport any non-criminal immigrants who are high school students “being deported solely for the illegal conduct of their parents;” “bi-national same-sex married couples;” “agricultural workers;” or “immigrant parents with U.S.-citizen children.”

Meanwhile, the right-wing litigation organization Judicial Watch, which among other causes, is helping to defend Arizona’s SB 1070 and is suing a number of police departments for their community policing practices, announced that it filed two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the Obama Administration to obtain records pertaining to what they call “stealth amnesty.”

ICE Resumes Removals to Haiti: ICE announced on April 1 that it was planning to resume deportations of some Haitians.  After a first round of deportations resulted in the death of one deportee after he was imprisoned and suffered cholera-like symptoms shortly after arriving in Haiti, ICE provided an opportunity for public comment on their deportation policy.  In the end, they decided to resume deportations, saying that ICE and the State Department “have been working with the Government of Haiti and other key partners to resume removals in as safe, humane, and minimally disruptive a manner as possible….” For more information, see this press release from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.

President Convenes Meeting on Immigration Reform: On April 19, the President convened a meeting of, among others, business CEOs, key leaders of the faith and civil rights communities, and law enforcement and elected officials.  Included in the meeting were National Evangelical Association President Leith Anderson, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and many others.

According to this White House summary, the President promised to “intensify efforts to lead a civil debate on this issue in the coming weeks and months,” and encouraged participants to “take a public and active role to lead a constructive and civil debate” in “communities around the country and involve many sectors of American society in insisting that Congress act.”  The President also said that, “his Cabinet and White House team will follow up with each participant….”

This Forum press release reacts to the White House meeting.

Immigration Reform Interior Enforcement Immigrant Students

Border Control vs. Sealing the Border

April 08, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Berlin Wall


The topic of “operational control” of the border has been a hot topic in Congress lately, and the Forum has just posted a new analysis explaining the issue.


For many years now, politicians wanting to show how tough they can be on immigration have advocated more and more border enforcement.  In 2006, Congress defined operational control in the Secure Fence Act as the prevention of all unlawful entries into the U.S.


The Border Patrol, on the other hand, uses a layered approach in which resources are deployed based on risk to gain effective control of the border.


As the Forum’s paper points out, the concept of operational control as defined by statute is unrealistic; a tightly sealed border has only been approximated by totalitarian states that have lined their border with armed guards.  For the U.S. to completely seal the border the cost would be, as Richard Stana of the Government Accountability Office put it so kindly, “probably out of reasonable consideration.”  It would also create an image of this country more like that of the old East Germany.


By managing resources with the goal of gaining effective control, more or fewer resources are deployed in a given area based on risk assessment.  For example, remote areas offer few opportunities to melt into the general population, so there is less need for the Border Patrol to immediately respond to an illegal crossing as it is happening.  Illegal crossings in urban areas offer greater opportunity to evade detection if they are not responded to immediately.


Everywhere else in the U.S., law enforcement manages crime in their communities.  In a community, a rash of crime might lead to the hiring of more police, but eventually, even though crimes continue to be committed, the police manage the crime at a rate acceptable to the community given the costs.  A local politician who called for the hiring of 10 more police officers every time a crime is committed would not long keep his job.  Communities have to balance their budgets.


Not so at the federal level.  Border enforcement is the whipping post to which politicians like to tie their opponents.  When a crime is committed by a border intruder, politicians will call for a thousand more Border Patrol agents or deployment of the National Guard.  They don’t have to worry about how to pay; the money can be borrowed. 


Exhibit A: On March 30, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced the “Keeping the Pledge on Immigration Act of 2011.”  This bill calls for the deployment of up to 4,000 additional National Guard on the border (more, if the Governor of a border state wants more) until the Secretary of DHS certifies that the government has achieved “operational control” of the U.S.-Mexico border as defined in the Secure Fence Act.  The bill also calls for more border fencing, and mandates the full implementation of the US-VISIT system’s entry and exit controls within four years.  (The bill also has an interior enforcement section that would, among other things, ban certain community policing policies developed by law enforcement agencies for effective policing in immigrant communities.)


The bill has no provision to raise revenue to pay for sealing the border or for its other provisions, so, even as budget negotiators are wrangling over how much to cut the budget, others are proposing to pile on more debt.


A better approach is to strive for effective control that allows the Border Patrol to deploy resources to areas that pose the greatest risk.  It makes much more sense, strategically and financially.


For more on “operational control,” read our paper.

Image by Flickr User siyublog


Southwest Senate Retirements Should Trigger Immigration Gut Check for Both Parties

April 05, 2011 - Posted by Martine Apodaca

Ad about whtiman 

Since the 112th Congress came to order, eight senior Senators have announced their retirements in 2012–four of which represent states in the American West.  Senators, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John Ensign (R-NV), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) have decided to call it quits, giving way to new talent from their states. 

As the Census has shown us, demographics have changed dramatically in these states since these Senators last ran for re-election.  An explosive boom in the Latino population has driven enormous growth in each of these states, and nationwide, there are now more than 50 million Latinos, representing 16% of the country’s total population.  This demographic shift has made Latinos the largest minority group in America with game-changing implications for electoral politics.

Already, Hispanic voters were the fastest growing electoral demographic in key swing states between 2004 and 2008, increasing in share of eligible voters from 8.2% to 9.5%. However, the Latino population boom has not been distributed evenly, and it has been most pronounced in the American Southwest, precisely where many long-time incumbents have decided to pass on reelection, and where both parties will spend inordinate amounts of money.  In Texas, Latinos represent nearly 34% of the potential electorate; in New Mexico, 42.5%; Arizona, 21.3%; and Nevada, 17.3%.  This demographic shift has made Latino voters THE critical voting bloc in each of these sure-to-be-contested Senate races.

According to polling, immigration has become a litmus test issue for Latino voters. Candidates who espouse anti-immigrant policies or oppose comprehensive immigration reform are dead on arrival with this demographic. Thus it behooves the parties to choose their candidates carefully with the long-term implications for their respective parties in mind.

Latino Voters in the West and Southwest Represent a Challenge and Opportunity for Democrats and Republicans

The 2010 midterm elections provided a valuable lesson to both parties. Western and Southwestern states—where Latinos wielded the most influence—proved to be the critical Senate contests. Indeed, after the votes were counted, Latino voters had saved control of the United States Senate for the Democratic Party.  Republican candidates who espoused anti-immigrant policies or called for harsh crackdowns on immigration were defeated in Nevada, Colorado, and California.

Incumbent Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won in an upset by 5 points against Republican challenger Sharron Angle, who angered Nevada’s large and growing number of Latino voters with her aggressive campaign rhetoric aimed at illegal immigrants.  Somewhere between 69% and 90% of Hispanics voted for Reid according to exit polls and Latinos accounted for 12% of the total vote.  In Colorado, a combination of Republican Ken Buck’s anti-immigrant position, and Senator Michael Bennet’s espousal of the DREAM Act and immigration reform helped the Democrat win Latino voters overwhelmingly and propel Bennet to victory.  In California, a combination of Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina’s nonsensical flip-flop positions on immigration reform propelled a Democrat back into the Governor’s mansion and a sent Senator Barbara Boxer back to Washington for a fourth term.

Nationally, Congressional Republicans won just 38% of the Latino vote in 2010. This is an ominous sign for Republicans strategists who must assemble a broad coalition to defeat President Obama and keep key states in the Republican column in 2012.  While Republicans made historic gains in 2010, the electorate that turns out on Nov 6th 2012 will be vastly different than 2010 voters. It will be much larger, younger, and more heavily Latino than in any election in U.S. history.  For both parties to broaden the electoral battleground, they’ll need candidates who appeal to these new voters.

Meanwhile, the harshly anti-immigrant segment of the Republican Party has created an intensely negative perception of the Party among Latino and immigrant voters.  They continue to reinforce this perception by championing draconian anti-immigrant legislation including legislation styled on Arizona’s SB 1070.  As Politico reported about a new California statewide poll,

“Latino voters across the state hold widely negative views of the Republican Party, according to the survey, which was conducted by a GOP pollster and consultant and conceived as a tool to help the party make inroads with Hispanic voters.  Many respondents said they see the GOP as too conservative and don’t trust it on the issue of immigration reform.” 

The poll showed that an astonishingly high 47% of Latino voters have an intensely negative view of the Republican Party and only 26% view them favorably.

Republicans like Jan Brewer, Russell Pearce, and a throng of other restrictionist politicians pushing anti-immigrant bills have put a Republican face on anti-immigrant laws; and Latino and immigrant voters don’t like what they see.  As a result, and because of demographic trends, the Republican Party may be sentencing itself to electoral doom.  This is particularly true in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Texas where the enormous growth in the Latino electorate may turn previously out-of-reach senate seats—like Hutchison’s and Kyl’s—into winnable contests for the Democrats.  The nasty rhetoric coming from some members of the Republican Party on immigration—a litmus test issue for Latino voters—has severely damaged the Republican brand.

While Latino voters may have soured on the Republican brand, they know that Democrats have failed to deliver, repeatedly, on their promises to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, a central campaign promise from the President and the Senate Majority Leader.  And while polling last month suggests that many Latinos approve of President Obama’s performance in key states, only around 43% said they would vote for him next year, according to Latino Decisions. 

The numbers show the explosive growth of Latino voters in these key southwestern states, but it remains to be seen whether either party will be able to translate these numbers into political power.  For example, while Latino voters in Texas represent a potential 33.7 percent of the electorate, more than 2.1 million eligible Latino voters aren’t registered.  If Texas Democrats ever hope to win statewide elected office again—something that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades—they’ll need to recruit and register legions of new Latino voters, nominate candidates with pro-immigrant and pro-Latino policies, and ensure these new voters turnout on Election Day.  For Republicans to continue their statewide dominance, they’ll need to win large numbers of Latino voters.  This job will be made more difficult by a small but vocal segment of the party that continues to call for harsh crackdowns on immigrants and attempts to push Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation through the Legislature.   

Thus to be taken seriously by Latino voters, both parties would be best served by candidates who espouse common sense, pro-immigration reform policies.  While Arizona Senator Jon Kyl has been one of the most vocal opponents of immigration reform in years past, his potential Republican successor will not have all of the significant advantages of incumbency and will face an electorate that is younger and more Latino.  She or he will not be able to espouse the same enforcement-only policies and harsh rhetoric and expect to be taken seriously by a Latino electorate energized by the nasty anti-immigrant debate in Arizona.

Former President George W. Bush proved that Republicans can attract Latino voters.  He performed better among Latino voters than any other Republican presidential candidate ever, losing the Latino vote by only 60-40 to John Kerry.  This was just enough to put him over the top in critical states like New Mexico.  However, the former President was decidedly pro-immigration reform.

This doesn’t mean that the GOP can recruit candidates who just tone down the rhetoric.  They must choose candidates that have strong pro-immigration reform credentials and who don’t back away from their stance on immigration reform when they face a tough primary.  Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, a GOP candidate for Senator Kyl’s seat, recently abandoned his previously pro-immigration reform position, presumably to protect his right-flank in a Republican primary.  However, this kind of naked flip-flopping on immigrants and immigration reform turns off Latino voters, as GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman learned in California.  During a tough GOP primary, Whitman called for harsh crackdowns on illegal immigrants.  After securing the GOP nomination, Whitman tried to pivot to the general election with warm and fuzzy messages to Latino voters on English and Spanish language television.  It didn’t work.  Latino voters remembered her campaign’s harsh tone and negative campaign ads demonizing immigrants and voted overwhelmingly for her Democratic opponent in the general election.

It’s clear we will have at least four new faces from the Southwest in the next United States Senate.  However, for both parties to win long-term with Latino voters in Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, they’ll need the right candidates and the right policies that appeal to an electorate increasingly dominated by Latinos.  By nominating pro-immigrant candidates and espousing common sense immigration policies, both parties have an opportunity to ensure that the nation’s demographic destiny comports with their long-term and chief goal: winning elections.

Image by Flickr user meg_whitman_no_es_nuestra_amiga

Immigration Reform

How to Save Your Local Public Safety Budget

April 01, 2011 - Posted by Lena Graber



Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on the dire funding situation for law enforcement in Camden, New Jersey.  “Callers to 911 who report things like home burglaries or car break-ins are asked to file a report over the phone or at police headquarters; officers rarely respond in person. “If it doesn’t need a gun and a badge at that location,” officers are not sent, the city’s police chief, J. Scott Thomson, said last week.”


Around the country, local budgets are making painful cuts, and fundamental public safety services like police and firefighters are getting hatcheted.  Dallas, TX; Mesa, AZ; Lynnwood, WA; Oakland, CA, Tulsa, OK, and Norton, MA… The Police Executive Research Forum reported at the end of 2010 that more than half of all the police departments they surveyed are going through major cuts, to an average of 7% of their budgets.


At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security is putting more pressure on local law enforcement agencies and jails to help them enforce federal immigration laws.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs many programs that depend on local jurisdictions holding immigrants in local jails, and the temporary detention of immigrants for the federal government can be a significant financial burden for cities and counties, according to a new analysis by the National Immigration Forum.


The way this happens seems at first to be technical and complicated, but is actually quite simple.  When ICE learns that a local jail has a non-citizen in their custody (such as through the Secure Communities program, the Criminal Alien Program, the 287(g) Program, or some other informal collaboration between local police and ICE) ICE files a detainer, requesting that jail to hold the person for two extra days, so that ICE has the opportunity to come take custody of the person and put him or her into deportation proceedings.  This may apply regardless of whether the immigrant is documented or undocumented.  In fact, detainers have even been erroneously lodged against U.S. Citizens, over whom ICE has no jurisdiction.


Well, those two extra days in city jail cost the city money, which ICE does not reimburse.  In New York City, where the cost of each person’s single day in jail is $170, those extra 48 hours for holding people on ICE detainers may cost more than $1.3 million per year.  


In reality, the cost of detainers is far greater than the cost of just two days in jail, according to the Forum’s analysis.  Detainers are widely misused, frequently resulting in prolonged unlawful detention far beyond 48 hours per person.  An immigration detainer is not a warrant or a basis for arrest, but it is not uncommon for immigrants to be stopped by police and brought to a jail simply so that ICE can lodge a detainer against them.  This practice results in immigrants being jailed without even being charged with a crime.

Immigrants facing criminal charges, both major and quite minor, are commonly denied bail due to a detainer.  As a result, many immigrants who are not dangerous and would otherwise be released spend weeks in jail before their criminal trial.  And jailing people is very expensive.  


It’s worth emphasizing that this is not about serious criminals who are a public safety hazard.  People charged with violent crimes are often ineligible for bail, regardless of citizenship.  People charged with offenses like public drunkenness or trespassing are usually released, and told to show up to court in a month—that is, unless they are immigrants with a detainer against them, in which case they’ll probably spend that entire month in jail, at an enormous cost to the county budget, not to mention to the immigrants and their families.


So in Irving, Texas, where the county budget for 2010-11 faces a $20 million shortfall, the county should perhaps consider scaling back on the way it collaborates with ICE, and exactly how much it is willing to spend holding immigrants on detainers.  And Camden, where recent layoffs have left the city with fewer police on the force than any time since 1949, ought to take a look at who exactly they are holding for ICE, and if that’s an essential part of their law enforcement budget. 


Image: iStockphoto/helenecanada

Interior Enforcement Detention State&Local Enforcement

Get Email Updates

Updates Daily News Clips
Crossroads Campaign Solutions