This week, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a legal directive indicating that it is not compulsory for local law enforcement agencies to hold a detainee just because it is required by federal immigration authorities. Harris said that every police department must decide on its own whether to comply with the so-called detainers. These detainers are requests to hold someone beyond what criminal laws require, so that ICE may determine if immigration laws have been broken.
There are several reasons why the decision Harris made is a step in the right direction. First, it validates the concern of many police chiefs and civil rights advocates that the Secure Communities program not only does not fulfill its own objectives. In practice, it also has turned out to be damaging in several ways: creating fear of police in immigrant communities, having local governments foot the bill for detention expenses for an activity that is essentially federal and giving rise to civil rights violations that open the door to potential lawsuits. In fact, this week a Chicago judge allowed a lawsuit against the use of these detainers to proceed. The suit was filed by U.S. citizens who were victimized because of their ethnic origin or race.
Harris did the right thing. But the real solution is to create statewide legal standards that are even and fair. That is why we reiterate our support for a measure like the TRUST Act. This bill was vetoed by the governor a couple of months ago but has been reintroduced by California lawmakers. Its purpose is to offer specific legal guidance and restrict the use of detainers to those who were arrested for serious crimes, which is the supposed objective of the Secure Communities program as designed by the Obama administration.
Gov. Jerry Brown said that this year, reaching a solution that works for California would be among his priorities. Harris’ decision and the concerns of many police chiefs about the effect of Secure Communities make it clear that the status quo is not working.