The sheriff of New Orleans has issued a new policy refusing to honor detainment orders from federal authorities of suspected undocumented aliens unless they are arrested for a felony or have a serious criminal record. This refusal by a major metropolitan area law enforcement agency to heed directives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the first in the Deep South but is only the latest among a number of high profile police organizations. Cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago have already issued similar guidelines.
As an immigration attorney, I have long observed the tension between the need to police undocumented immigrants who may pose a threat to public safety and the budgetary realities that prevent implementation of overreaching anti-immigrant policies. While it is reasonable to attach ideological reasons to proclamations like those issued by the New Orleans Sheriff’s office, the truth is that most police groups lack the resources to effectively implement many of the immigration policies the federal government enacts.
The Orleans Parish which issued this new policy has come under fire from the U.S. Justice Department in recent months. Mario Cacho was one of two men detained under a federal detention request following three week sentence for disturbing the peace. Following completion of his sentence and the detention request he remained incarcerated for an additional 160 days. Upon investigation it was found that Orleans Parish Prison lacked Spanish speaking personnel and many of these guards did not maintain a reliable system for ensuring prisoners were released following completion of their sentence.
Many major cities have already enacted policies similar to New Orleans. Many local police organizations have issued these policies in response to the federal government’s Secure Communities program. The Secure Communities program began in 2011 and empowers Immigration and Customs Enforcement to request detention of any suspect for up to 48 hours if they are believed to be without legal status. The program also allows the Department of Homeland Security to obtain any detainee’s fingerprints. The avowed purpose of Secure Communities is to improve national security and public safety, but many immigration advocates have criticized the program for sweeping too wide a net. They allege that many low level offenders are deported as a result of Secure Communities.
The new policy by the New Orleans Sheriff’s Office and other organizations support their push back on Secure Communities by arguing that they are reserving jail space for the truly dangerous criminals. The hope is that immigrants without legal status will be more willing to assist police in apprehending criminals if they are not at risk of detainment or deportation.
As a long time immigration attorney in Texas, I recognize that many police organizations have implemented similar policies without the added fanfare of a public proclamation. Like all communities, the immigrant community is eager for peace and security, and the focus on violent criminals is a worthy use of public resources.
Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC is an Austin based firm specializing in immigration and family law. If you would like to discuss your case with an experienced legal professional, please contact us at (512) 215-5225.