In no longer heeding federal immigration requests to hold inmates who might be deportable past their jail terms unless a judge has vetted the request, the Los Angeles Police Department is joining scores of other cities and counties that have stopped the practice.
Analysts told The Times' Emily Alpert Reyes and Kate Linthicum that the shift could undercut the Obama administration's strategy on immigration enforcement.
Many local law enforcement agencies — including the LAPD — decided to reexamine their practices after a federal court ruled in April that an Oregon county was liable for damages after holding an inmate beyond her release date so she could be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris recently advised police agencies that if courts in California apply the reasoning used by the court in Oregon, police could be found to have violated the 4th Amendment by detaining someone solely based on an immigration request. California lawmakers had already opted to limit such immigration holds last year, permitting them only for inmates charged with or convicted of serious offenses.
In reaction to Monday's announcement by Los Angeles officials, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said detainers are used to make sure "dangerous criminals" are not released into communities. ICE added that in some cases, people who were released instead of being turned over to federal agents went on to commit serious crimes.
"When law enforcement agencies turn criminals over to ICE rather than releasing them into the community, it enhances public safety and the safety of law enforcement," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a written statement.
But at a Monday news conference alongside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Mike Feuer and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck declared that their new approach would build trust in the community and encourage more people to report crimes.
"People ask 'Will this affect crime in Los Angeles?' My answer is no," Beck said. The police chief said crime had continued to fall over the last three years in Los Angeles, even as the Police Department "systematically reduced" the number of detention requests that it honored.
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. So far this year, the LAPD has received 773 such requests and honored roughly 300, Beck said.
"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."
Under the new practice, 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 new approach is expected to remain in effect until "this area of the law is further clarified by the courts," its statement said.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other immigrant advocacy groups praised L.A. officials for the shift, saying it "moves Los Angeles another step away from the Arizona policies that threaten L.A. families and public safety." The ACLU of Southern California said Monday it had sent letters to local cities that still heed the federal requests, asking them to "follow Los Angeles' lead and end this unconstitutional practice."
Meanwhile, Jo Wideman, executive director of 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."