NIIC and ICE Detainer Policy

Written by Madelyn Peterson ’13

Annie Benson addresses us with a sharp focus from behind her thick-rimmed glasses. Each word from her mouth is efficient and rapid; her hands move with deliberation and strength. Her intensity is complimented by a joyful flair and an ease of laughter that reveal her compassion and ardor for her work. Annie is the Supervising Attorney for the Washington Defender Association Immigration Project, and she works to defend immigrant rights. This last week she spoke on the Human Rights and Immigration Enforcement panel at the National Immigrant Integration Conference. In this panel, she discussed how law enforcement can legally resist national immigration measures.

Secure Communities” is a federal immigration program that acts on the local level. Under Secure Communities, the fingerprints of everyone checked into the local jail are sent to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database; each individual is checked for any history with Immigration. If their prints are in the database, Immigration can drop a “detainer” on the person in question. Proof of foreign birth is enough of a reason to drop a detainer. After an interview, if ICE determines that they are ‘deportable’ they are taken into federal custody and tried for deportation at the nearest detention facility

I had thought that ICE detainers were orders from ICE to local jails, but, as Annie explained, they are really “civil administrative requests.” In other words, detainers are strong suggestions, but they are not orders. Local law enforcement is not required to honor these requests. In Cook County, Chicago IL, the Board of Commissioners declared that the county will not honor ICE detainers. Santa Clara CA and New York City have passed similar ordinances. Even though counties that have accepted Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) cannot opt out of the programs, they can refuse to honor detainers. However, a cultural shift is required for this to happen. Local law enforcement officers must be willing to deny the requests of their superiors, federal immigration authorities. For an institution that is built upon its respect for order and authority, this kind of legal non-compliance may be a bold move.

Secure Communities is relatively new in Benton and Franklin Counties of Washington State, and we don’t yet know its full (and potential) impact on these communities. As I continue my research in these counties, I’m now planning to investigate local jail policies on Immigration Holds and Detainers, and to find out whether or not law enforcement are aware of ICE detainers’ non-compulsory nature. The response in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, and Yakima Counties to ICE’s involvement in their operations will be a model for the rest of the state of Washington. The option of non-compliance with federal authority should be another tool in the toolbox for the Tri-Cities’ response to immigration policy.

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