The City of Los Angeles on Monday made an important decision to block one of the worst alignments of federal policy and municipal policing currently at play in the US. No longer will the LAPD comply with federal demands to detain undocumented immigrants for possible deportation while they are otherwise eligible for release by law.
This should put an end to a vile practice in which LA cops would arrest an individual, often for a low-level offense, but hold that detainee beyond their jail terms so that they could be assessed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for potential deportation. Now, unless a judge specifically vets the request, an inmate — undocumented or not — must be released according to the jail term of the offense for which he or she was arrested. The decision, one hopes, will help put a stop to using local policing as a pretext to sweep up undocumented immigrants.
While LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has said that he hopes the refusal to honor federal detention requests will improve trust for police in immigrant communities, we can hold our applause for the police here. Monday's decision was the result of ass-covering more than good-doing. An April decision in an Oregon federal court found that a local county, not the feds, were liable for keeping a woman beyond her release date in order to transfer her into ICE hands.
It's the sort of attitude that relies upon and reproduces racism and xenophobia, which continues to punish immigrants, undocumented or otherwise.
Los Angeles doesn't want that liability if and when Fourth Amendment lawsuits are filed by detainees held while eligible for release. In the Oregon case, for example, a judge ruled that it had been unconstitutional to detain a woman for two weeks without requisite probable cause or judicial determination. Municipal police departments can scant afford the payouts if courts nationwide follow Oregon's precedent and rule detainees eligible for damages.
ICE's response to the LA decision, meanwhile, reflected wrong-headed assumptions about immigrant communities and criminality. In a statement, ICE said, “When law enforcement agencies turn criminals over to ICE rather than releasing them into the community, it enhances public safety and the safety of law enforcement." There's so much wrong with this statement it's hard to even parse. Firstly, if a "criminal" has served the jail time designated for a given offense, he or she deserves to be freed, not further detained.
ICE's assumption seems to be that America's arrested and undocumented, having brushed against an overzealous justice system, are dangerous to the communities from which they are all too often aggressively plucked by the authorities. It's the sort of attitude that relies upon and reproduces racism and xenophobia, which continues to punish immigrants, undocumented or otherwise.
The LAPD has said that it will not hold detainees for ICE, but that ICE agents will still be contacted when arrestees are flagged for possible immigration violations upon their fingerprints being run. This highlights again how Monday's decision is, for the LAPD and other police departments making similar calls, a matter of dodging liability more than ensuring the fair treatment of undocumented immigrants. At best, one hopes the upshot will be fairer treatment for those arrested while in precarious immigration situations.
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