California says federal immigration detention requests are voluntary

Reuters Middle East

SACRAMENTO, Dec 4 (Reuters) - California's attorney general

said on Tuesday that state and local law enforcement agencies

were not required to honor federal immigration detention

requests, a declaration welcomed by immigrant rights activists.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law

enforcement official, said complying with the federal program

that helped deport a record 400,000 illegal immigrants last year

is voluntary.

Harris is the highest state official to join a handful of

officials in major cities in resisting the information-sharing

program between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement

(ICE) agents and local law enforcement, known as "Secure

Communities."

Critics have lambasted the program for placing victims of

domestic violence in deportation proceedings and deterring

immigrants from reporting crimes.

"Several local law enforcement agencies appear to treat

immigration detainers, sometimes called 'ICE holds,' as

mandatory orders. But immigration detainers are not compulsory.

Instead, they are merely requests enforceable at the discretion

of the agency holding the individual arrestee," Harris wrote.

The announcement came the day after a bill was introduced in

the state legislature that would limit local authorities from

honoring detention requests unless those individuals were

convicted of a serious or violent felony.

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in

September, saying the legislation was "fatally flawed" by

exempting individuals who had committed crimes such as child

abuse, drug trafficking and selling weapons.

Activists welcomed Harris' announcement, and called for

renewed support of the revised bill.

"It simply makes no sense for California to comply with

voluntary requests and to fill jails with peaceful immigrants at

state expense, in order to fuel a broken, unjust federal

deportation system," said Chris Newman, the legal director of

the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the

sponsor's of the bill.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has previously said he

does not believe federal detentions requests should apply to

illegal immigrants arrested for "low-grade misdemeanor offenses"

and similar crimes, and wants his department to refrain from

handing over illegal immigrants arrested for such offenses to

federal authorities for potential deportation.

(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa

Shumaker)

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