House Dems push DHS to stop working with local police on immigration

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A group of 60 House Democrats urged the Biden administration on Thursday to end programs at the Department of Homeland Security that allow for state and local police officers to take on the role of federal immigration enforcement.

The push comes as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under recently-confirmed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, is set to release new guidelines on how the agency will handle enforcement after four years of the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda.

“The current immigration enforcement regime depends on the time and resources of local law enforcement agencies—at the expense of public safety for all and in particular for immigrant communities,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), wrote in a letter to Mayorkas, shared first with POLITICO.

The group of Democrats said they want to see DHS end the 287(g) program, which allows DHS to enter into agreements with state and local police departments that allows for officers to do the work of ICE agents. The program existed before former President Donald Trump was in office but was expanded under his administration as part of an effort recruit more help from local and state authorities to expel more immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The lawmakers also asked the Biden administration to end a program started by the George W. Bush administration that gave federal agents access to the fingerprints of individuals booked into jail by local and state authorities. The program, known as Secure Communities, was ended by former President Barack Obama in 2014 but restarted by Trump via a 2017 executive order.

Further, the group called for DHS to end the use of ICE detainers — requests issued for local enforcement agencies to get information or hold an individual for up to 48 hours after they’re supposed to be released, affording ICE extra time to facilitate deportation.

“We respectfully urge you to end these programs and practices—and launch a new era of a more just and welcoming immigration enforcement system divorced from local law enforcement agencies,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was endorsed by several progressive and immigrant advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and United We Dream.

Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said the issue with local police working with ICE is the fear it creates in migrant families, making it less likely they’ll report crimes. “It also means immigrant workers and their families are afraid to get tested, vaccinated, and treated for Covid-19 out of fear of local police,” Shah said.

So far, the Biden administration has not weighed in publicly on how exactly it will navigate the relationship between DHS and state and local law enforcement, although Mayorkas is expected to promote more restraint from the agency when it comes to detainment and deportations. Biden announced on his first day in office a 100-day moratorium on most deportations, though that measure has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

DHS also announced on Biden’s first day in office that it would begin a review of policies and practices tied to immigration enforcement. In a memo issued on Jan. 20, then-Acting DHS Sec. David Pekoske said the department’s temporary enforcement priorities on immigration are protecting national security, border security and public safety.

Some immigrant advocates acknowledge they do not expect DHS to change its practices overnight, but the letter from Democrats is part of a bigger push progressives and immigrant advocacy groups will be making to move Biden left on how his administration handles ICE’s work.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Republicans have begun to ramp up their criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration agenda. A group of 12 Senate Republicans, including Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday urged the Biden administration to reconsider its immigration agenda given an increase in the number of illegal border crossings.

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