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Refusing to Honor Immigration Detainers will put Residents at Risk, not Protect Them

Recent news articles across the country highlight the growing trend where cities have begun refusing to honor detainers issued by Federal immigration officers to local jails. These small towns and large metropoli are known as “sanctuary cities.” In these approximately 200 municipalities nationwide, when a person is arrested and put into the local jail, local law enforcement officers will release the person from jail even when Federal immigration officers have sent a written request to the jail to hold the person for a brief time. This written request, know as an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainer or hold, is a request to the local jail to keep the person in custody for no more than 48 hours after they are ready for release. The purpose of this hold is to allow immigration officers time to decide whether or not the person is a non-citizen and in the country in violation of the criminal or civil immigration laws.

The articles largely focus on isolated cases where the detainers where issued against people who turned out to be U.S. citizens, or who were held for more than 48 hours after they should have been released. The articles pinpoint the handful of cases where mistakes were made-not the tens of thousands of cases over the years where the use of these detainers helped to protect the communities where they were honored. In the years that ICE has used these detainers, the cooperation between local law enforcement and Federal immigration officers has led to the identification and removal of tens of thousands of convicted murders, child molesters, violent felons, and drug traffickers.

When local law enforcement or immigration officers make mistakes, and violate a person’s constitutional rights, there should be justice for those harmed. Officers should be disciplined, re-assigned, re-trained or fired. Cities and the Federal government should be held responsible when their officers violate people’s rights. However, to completely refuse to honor immigration detainers, and to release convicted violent criminals, who admit they are in the country illegal, back into a vulnerable and unsuspecting community, doesn’t protect anyone, it puts everyone, including other immigrants, at risk.

When law enforcement officers violate a defendant’s rights during a traffic stop, cities do not tell their officers to stop pulling over cars. When one officer uses excessive force with a firearm, cities do not tell their officers to stop carrying guns. That would be a complete overreaction. Traffic stops are in important civil and crime fighting tool. Traffic stops help to deter and punish people who violate both the civil and criminal traffic laws. Firearms are an important part of a police officer’s tools to prevent crime and catch criminals.

A city would never ban their law enforcement officers from using firearms or conducting traffic stops, because that would clearly lead to an increase in crime and would make the residents of the cities less safe. The decision not to honor immigration detainers will have the same effect in the cities that decide to overreact in this fashion. Repeat criminal offenders, who also happen to be non-citizens, who could be identified and removed from communities by immigration officers, will be released back into these same cities and continue to victimize residents.

The answer to the perceived abuse of immigration detainers is not to stop honoring them. The answer is to change the disagreeable current immigration laws and to punish the officers, state or federal, who abuse the laws and the people who they are entrusted to serve.