- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The D.C. Council introduced a bill Tuesday that cuts in half the amount of time U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to pick up illegal immigrants placed on a civil detainer.

The bill, co-introduced by all 13 members of the council, requires the federal government to pick up detainees within 24 hours and pay for the detainee’s incarceration.

It also stipulates the District will only hold ICE detainees who have been convicted of violent offenses.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the bill is aimed at growing distrust of the Secure Communities program, designed to join federal, state and local agencies in removing serious criminals not in the United States legally.

Critics question whether the program, in which localities share with ICE and the FBI the fingerprints of individuals booked into jails to determine their immigration status, meets the intended goal of removing dangerous aliens or potentially tears apart families by deporting nonviolent immigrants.

The council’s bill, the Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act of 2011, emphasizes the District’s discretion in complying with ICE and is modeled after legislation adopted in cities such as Chicago and New York City, Mr. Mendelson said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

Mr. Mendelson referred to a letter the council sent to the Department of Homeland Security in September, which emphasized the need to build trust with the immigrant community to effectively prevent or investigate crimes in the District.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed an order last month that prohibits public-safety officers from asking people about their immigration status.

The executive order also directs officers in seven D.C. agencies not to arrest people based only on their immigration status.

City officials said the mayor’s order should not be viewed as a plan to opt out of Secure Communities, which is expected to be implemented nationwide by 2013.

Much like the council’s new effort, officials said the mayor’s policy highlights the city’s refusal to allow immigration status to affect police investigations when a resident, documented or not, is in need.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, has been an advocate of these measures on behalf of immigrant groups.

“What we are saying in this legislation is we want to maintain the bright line between what federal immigration officials do and what our local department does,” Mr. Graham said. “We have worked for years to ensure that there is such a bright line.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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