shutterstock_144826450The Newark Police Department is the most recent local law enforcement agency to announce that it will  refuse requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain people who have been picked up for minor criminal offenses.  Newark is the first city in New Jersey to stop honoring detainer requests from ICE, and the announcement follows news that New Orleans has also adopted a similar policy. Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio signed the policy change on July 24:

City police will no longer comply with ICE requests to hold suspects accused of crimes like shoplifting or vandalism. They will, however, continue to share fingerprint information with federal investigators, according to DeMaio, who said the department received only eight detainer requests in 2012.

“If we arrest somebody for a disorderly persons offense and we get a detainer request we’re not going to hold them in our cell block,” he said.

The growing concern on the part of law enforcement is that ICE detainers are clogging jail cells and hogging law enforcement resources by holding individuals who are not dangerous criminals for days or weeks while ICE decides whether or not to pick them up on immigration violations.  A recent lawsuit in New Orleans highlighted the issue in which two immigrants were held for 90 and 160 days on what should have been 48-hour ICE holds.

Furthermore, when local law enforcement officials are seen as immigration enforcers community safety suffers. That is why immigration advocates praised Newark’s decision to get out of the immigration enforcement business.

Newark is only the most recent examples of a growing list of cities—including Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, Chicago, and New York City—that are refusing to honor detainer requests that  have become more common under the federal “Secure Communities” program. States are taking steps to limit who state and local law enforcement officials can hold for deportation. California Gov. Jerry Brown may soon have a chance to sign the state’s TRUST Act that would codify these limitations. And the Connecticut legislature unanimously passed its version of the bill earlier this year. The bill, which the state’s governor signed into law, bars police from detaining someone solely for immigration reasons.

Over the weekend, The New York Times editorial board described the growing number of cities that are not cooperating with ICE detainer requests as a “hopeful trend.” The editorial notes:

The federal dragnet that makes little distinction between tamale sellers and dangerous criminals — greatly expanded by the use of local law enforcement officials across the country — has been ensnaring record numbers of minor offenders. This melding of local crime fighting and immigration enforcement has led to unjust imprisonment, policing abuses, racial profiling and paralyzing fear in immigrant communities.

The damage to public safety is measurable; a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that Latinos, both immigrants and native-born, often shun the police and are reluctant to cooperate with criminal investigations. Combating domestic violence, sexual abuse and gang-related crimes becomes far more difficult when local cops are de facto federal agents.

Smart law enforcement agencies are realizing the folly in trying to enforce federal immigration law and Newark is just the most recent city to put this burden back on the federal government.