- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A D.C. Council committee Tuesday advanced a bill 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 in November, requires the federal government to pick up detainees within 24 hours — as long as the ICE detainer is the only thing holding the inmate — and pay for the detainee’s incarceration. It also stipulates the District will only hold immigration detainees who are at least 18 years old and have been convicted of violent offenses.

The limitation does not apply to detainees who were convicted of homicide, given the implications of releasing such a potentially dangerous person into the community.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, said the bill is aimed at avoiding the “devastating consequences” that “even perceived collusion” between the Metropolitan Police Department and ICE can have on immigrants’ willingness to seek help in the face of danger.

“We’re not going to jeopardize local law enforcement by getting into federal immigration,” Mr. Mendelson said.

Committee members Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, and Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, joined Mr. Mendelson in unanimously forwarding the bill to the full council.

The legislation arrived last year amid growing distrust of the Secure Communities program, designed to join federal, state and local agencies by 2013 in removing serious criminals in the United States illegally.

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.

Mr. Mendelson has said 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.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed an order in October that prohibits public safety officers from asking people about their immigration status. It also directs officers in seven D.C. agencies not to arrest people based only on their immigration status.

Ms. Cheh sought reassurance Tuesday that the ICE bill dovetails with the mayor’s order. Mr. Mendelson noted the legislation addresses detention issues and not information gathering by officers on the beat.

The committee Tuesday also approved a bill that requires the D.C. Department of Corrections to release inmates from the city jail by 10 p.m. to avoid the pitfalls of a late-night release, specifically when the inmate has no shelter or transportation to rely on.

Officials cannot use the deadline to delay a person’s release, but the department will be fined for releasing an inmate after 10 p.m.

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

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