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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Obama extending amnesty to illegals in prisons, jails

Recognizes complaints of sanctuary cities

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Broadview, Ill., facility in March 2008. (Associated Press) **FILE**
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Broadview, Ill., facility in March 2008. (Associated Press)

By Stephen Dinan

The Obama administration has ordered agents to begin ignoring many of the illegal immigrants they encounter in local prisons and jails, as the president begins to implement a lesser-known part of his deportation amnesty program — a move that’s not sitting well with either side in the immigration debate.
The move is a nod to sanctuary cities, who had begun to refuse to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. After having court challenges, Mr. Obama bowed to those cities, counties and states and announced the changes as part of his November 2014 amnesty policy.
Agents will still troll local prisons and jails looking for immigrants, but they will no longer try to deport those with drug possession offenses, theft or fraud if it involved stealing an identity in order to further their unlawful presence in the country, the House Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.
Even some illegal immigrants who have been charged with serious felonies but who are released by the local authorities won’t be picked up by immigration agents until they’re actually convicted, the committee said.
“President Obama is needlessly endangering our communities,” committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said in a statement announcing his findings on the new program. “It’s past time for the Obama administration to get its priorities straight and protect the American people instead of their political interests.”
Known as the Priority Enforcement Program or PEP, it replaces a program started in the Bush administration but which Mr. Obama had initially embraced, dubbed Secure Communities, which scoured prisons, jails and local police booking sheets looking for any illegal immigrants.
The goal was to boost deportation numbers while focusing on criminals, rather than on rank-and-file illegal immigrants who hadn’t had serious run-ins with the law.
But immigrant-rights advocates argued that Secure Communities was poisoning relations between police and both legal and illegal immigrants, making Hispanics in particular fear interactions with authorities and making them less likely to report crime altogether. That made them more likely to be victims, undercutting public safety goals, the advocates said.
They also said the administration was deporting illegal immigrants charged or convicted of minor offenses such as traffic violations.
The advocates won victory after victory in local city and county councils and even some state legislatures, as lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting their police from honoring detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which asked local police to hold illegal immigrants for pickup.
At least some federal courts ruled the detainers weren’t binding because there was no probable cause shown by federal agents.
Mr. Obama bowed to both the court rulings and political pressure, scrapping Secure Communities in November and announcing the replacement PEP program.
Under PEP, agents will not only ignore many of the illegal immigrants they encounter, but will also cut back on the number of detainer requests — though they will still be able to issue them occasionally.
“Under PEP, ICE will only seek transfer of individuals in state and local custody in specific, limited circumstances. ICE will only issue a detainer where an individual fits within DHS’s narrower enforcement priorities and ICE has probable cause that the individual is removable,” the agency said in a brochure describing the new program. “In many cases, rather than issue a detainer, ICE will instead request notification (at least 48 hours, if possible) of when an individual is to be released. ICE will use this time to determine whether there is probable cause to conclude that the individual is removable.”
Immigrant-rights advocates say the detainers are still a problem, and warned that local police who comply with the requests are still risking legal problems with the courts.
“PEP creates a trap for unwary local law enforcement agencies, which will be subject to legal liability should they choose to participate,” said Jessica Karp Bansal, litigation director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.


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