Illegal immigrants committing minor offenses will no longer be deported, the Obama administration announced Friday.
The Boston Herald reports that immigrant advocates and some police have complained that detention orders under the Secure Communities program were being issued "indiscriminately" to people committing minor offenses, such as driving without a license or selling food on private property.
“In order to further enhance our ability to focus enforcement efforts on serious offenders, we are changing who ICE will issue detainers against,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a statement. “We are constantly looking for ways to ensure that we are doing everything we can to utilize our resources in a way that maximizes public safety.”
Earlier this month, California Attorney General Kamala Harris asserted that the detainers were voluntary, not mandatory, prompting Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to reverse his policy of honoring detention orders for all arrestees.
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca said the change was “a huge step forward.”
“The serious criminals who are coming back into this country and committing more crimes, they’re the ones who should be in jail, not the low-level offenders,” said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca.
Federal agents were previously told to treat misdemeanor offenders as low priority but were not prohibited from issuing detainer requests for them, which meant an arrestee could be held for up to 48 hours longer than the person’s criminal charge would normally have allowed, thus giving immigration authorities more time to take them into custody.
The new policy states that agents may issue detainers only for those convicted or charged with a felony; those with three or more misdemeanor convictions, excluding traffic offenses and other minor crimes; and those whose misdemeanors are more serious, such as offenses involving violence or driving under the influence.
However, the misdemeanor exemption does not apply to immigrants who have previously been deported or who are considered a threat to national security.
“There are such a large number of people targeted through this program, who if this had been in effect since the beginning, would not have been deported,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an immigration attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.
Immigration advocates say that California's Trust Act, which was vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this fall, was still needed. A newly rewritten bill would prohibit local law enforcement from complying with ICE detainers unless the person has been convicted of a serious or violent crime.
“The new guidelines still allow for an excessive dragnet that will break up families, undermine trust in local law enforcement and be a drag on California’s economy,” said Tom Ammiano, D-Calif., the bill’s author.