The Los Angeles Police Department is no longer heeding federal immigration requests to hold inmates who might be deportable past their jail terms, unless a judge has vetted the request, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday alongside a cheering crowd of immigrant advocates.
"The federal government is in charge of enforcing federal immigration laws -- not us at the local level," Garcetti said. "And that responsibility can't be forced onto local law enforcement officials who already
have stretched budgets."
Los Angeles joins scores of other cities and counties that have stopped the practice after a federal court ruling in April. That ruling found that an Oregon county was liable for damages after holding an inmate beyond her release date so that she could be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Spurred by that ruling, Los Angeles officials decided to reexamine their approach to the federal requests earlier this year. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck declared that the new approach would foster the community's trust in the police department, encouraging more people to report crimes.
Beck said that crime had continued to fall over the last three years in Los Angeles as the police department "systematically reduced" the number of detention requests that it honored. So far this year, the department received 773 such requests and had honored roughly 300, Beck told the crowd.
"People ask -- will this affect crime in Los Angeles? My answer is no," Beck said Monday at a news conference alongside Garcetti and City Atty. Mike Feuer. He later added, "This is not something for people to be concerned about, about serious criminals being released, because they will not."
Federal agents check fingerprints of inmates booked by local police to see if they show up in federal immigration databases, then use the information to decide whether to ask police to hold the person for up to 48 hours. The holds are meant to give agents time to take the inmates into custody.
"The way it exists right now is, you don't even have to go to a judge," Garcetti added. "It's just an ICE officer who says, 'Hold that person' -- period. That no longer will be honored. Like most things, it will have to go through a judge."
Police will honor the requests only if they get a warrant or a "judicial determination of probable cause," the LAPD stated in a news release Monday morning.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other immigrant advocacy groups praised Garcetti, Beck and other city officials for changing their policy, stating that it "moves Los Angeles another step away from the Arizona policies that threaten L.A. families and public safety."
Meanwhile, Jo Wideman, executive director for Californians for Population Stabilization, which advocates for stricter immigration policy, called the change "ridiculous."
"By ignoring ICE detainees, people with criminal pasts will be released into the general public," Wideman said. "Criminals are going to get through the cracks."
Garcetti said the change was already in effect, adding in Spanish that the practice had started on Thursday. When it comes to the bigger question of immigration reform, he said, "we are waiting for action from Washington -- but in the meantime, we are acting ourselves."