The administration issued a report Monday saying that in order to rebuild trust between police and their communities, the federal government should stop enlisting state and local police in most immigration enforcement, setting up another challenge as President Obama tries to please immigrant rights advocates while carrying out deportations.
The recommendations were part of Mr. Obama’s policing task force, set up in the wake of riots last year in Ferguson, Missouri, to suggest ways federal officials can help local police do their jobs better. The heart of the report called for curtailing transfer of heavy weapons and tank-style vehicles to state and local authorities, but the report also delved into the thorny issue of immigration, saying government must “decouple” enforcement from local police.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security should terminate the use of the state and local criminal justice system, including through detention, notification, and transfer requests, to enforce civil immigration laws against civil and nonserious criminal offenders,” the task force said.
Task force officials also suggested that the government pay for any enforcement it asks of local authorities.
The report angered proponents of an immigration crackdown, who said it was the latest effort by Mr. Obama and his aides to stop finding illegal immigrants to deport.
“If you’re so worried about your legal status, or your illegal status, don’t put yourself in a place or a situation where you’re going to get picked up by the police,” said Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA, which lobbies for stricter immigration limits.
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She questioned the sense of ignoring illegal immigrants driving without a license or using falsified documents. “Somehow in this world if you’re an illegal alien, then you can’t be punished for being an illegal alien,” she said.
Homeland Security officials already were struggling with those questions under orders from Mr. Obama, who as part of his expanded deportation amnesty announced in November said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles interior enforcement and deportations, needs to change its relationship with state and local police.
As part of those changes, ICE scrapped its Secure Communities program, which trolled prisons and jails looking for illegal immigrants to be deported, but which angered dozens of police departments that said they worried they were being asked to hold people for pickup, making them complicit in enforcement.
ICE is replacing Secure Communities with what it calls the Priority Enforcement Program, which will continue to scour prisons and jails but will assert probable cause, according to draft documents obtained by advocacy groups.
ICE said it couldn’t comment on where the Priority Enforcement Program stands because of an ongoing lawsuit and referred questions about the task force’s recommendations to the White House.
Mr. Obama traveled to New Jersey to discuss the report, though he focused chiefly on the military equipment that local police used to confront protesters in Ferguson last year, sparking a national debate over whether there was a growing divide between officers and their communities.
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The report said police need to take steps to rebuild trust, including acknowledging past abuses, becoming more transparent, hiring racial and cultural minorities and polling to determine whether they have built solid relationships with their communities.
The report also said that establishing trust with immigrant communities “is central to overall public safety.”
That didn’t make sense to some. Lance LoRusso, a former police officer and Atlanta lawyer, said the immigration part of the report was “a political statement, not a law enforcement statement.”
He said an illegal immigrant who is arrested for a charge that the federal government deems not to be serious and who gets bonded out of jail is less likely to show up for legal proceedings because the person is in the country illegally.
The task force report said its recommendation about halting recruitment of state and local police for immigration enforcement stemmed from testimony by Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, an advocacy group.
Voto Latino didn’t return a message seeking comment on the report, nor did the American Civil Liberties Union, whose immigrant rights project has challenged federal efforts to enlist state and local police.
Last week, the ACLU and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released draft documents detailing the Obama administration’s newest plans for working with state and local police.
According to the documents, authorities will be asked to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after they otherwise would have been released so ICE officers can come pick them up. Unlike the old system, however, ICE officers would affirm that they have probable cause for the immigrant to be deported and therefore should be held.
Jessica Bansal, litigation director for the organizing network, said the program is still “a liability trap for unwary local law enforcement agencies, which bear legal responsibility for detaining individuals on ICE holds.”