- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

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

The executive order directs officers in seven D.C. agencies not to arrest people based only on their immigration status and draws a bright line between local duties and federal law enforcement, officials said.

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said the policy should promote public safety by ensuring that immigrants report crimes or cooperate with police without fear.

“Our job is to protect all of the people in the District of Columbia,” he said.

Hailed by Hispanic groups and other immigrant populations, the policy solidifies and clarifies existing practices by the Metropolitan Police Department while offering reassurance to residents who feared a crackdown based on actions in other states and the Secure Communities program. The federal program is designed to join federal, state and local agencies in removing serious criminals not in the United States legally.

Critics question whether the program meets the intended goal of removing dangerous aliens added to criminal databases through fingerprinting or potentially tears apart families that put down roots in the country.

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

Instead, officials said the mayor’s policy highlights the city’s refusal to allow immigration status to affect investigations when a resident, documented or not, is in need.

“There’s no value in what we investigate to have that information, so we’re going to leave that up to the federal government,” said Peter J. Newsham, assistant chief of the city’s Investigative Services Bureau.

Even if Secure Communities was implemented in the District, it should not affect day-to-day practices because it mostly connects the FBI’s database with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

“There’s no change,” she said. “We still are not going to submit the lower-level offense fingerprints. And more serious offenses … where fingerprints are taken by us will continue to go into the FBI system.”

Chief Newsham described low-level offenses, which are not sent to the FBI, as infractions such as leaving the scene of a collision or having an open container of alcohol.

The new order expands D.C. policy from just police to all public safety agencies in the city, clarifies that people will not be arrested simply because they have a detainer from ICE, and reiterates that ICE has 48 hours to pick up an inmate who is still in jail solely because of an immigration detainer, said Paul Quander, the city’s deputy mayor for public safety.

Brian K. Flowers, general counsel to the mayor, said his “expedited review” of the order shows it is legally sufficient.

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

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