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Thousands released after immigration holds denied

October 17, 2014

SANTA ANA, California (AP) — Immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.

The numbers are the first time federal immigration authorities have publicly detailed how many times local agencies have refused to comply with their requests. They highlight the friction between the federal government and some police and sheriff’s departments that say holding immigrants beyond their release dates harms community policing efforts.

In the first eight months of this year, immigration agents filed roughly 105,000 requests for local agencies to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after they were eligible for release on the allegations for which they initially were arrested, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agents wanted the immigrants held so they could take them into federal custody and start deportation proceedings.

Local law enforcement agencies declined 8,800 such requests during the same period. Those released include people arrested for investigation of domestic violence and drug charges, as well as others detained on lesser offenses but who had past convictions for crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, Kice said.

Across the country, many local agencies no longer are willing to hold jailed immigrants beyond their scheduled release dates. They say immigrants should not be held longer than U.S citizens for the same crime, and turning them over to ICE creates an atmosphere of distrust among community members.

Colorado stopped honoring the requests earlier this year, and New York City is considering doing the same.

Immigration officials say the denials pose a public safety threat as immigrants who previously would have been placed in federal custody once they were eligible to leave jail are being released into communities where they can commit new crimes.

The change is welcomed by immigrant advocates, who have long fought the requests from immigration authorities to continue detaining people after they’re eligible for release from jail, whether on bail or at the conclusion of a criminal case.

They say immigrants in communities that honored ICE’s requests have been afraid to report crimes, and the policy change will improve, not hamper, public safety.

Chris Newman, legal director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said deportation should not be used as a form of punishment.

“There has been an insidious erosion of constitutional rights protections,” he said. “Immigrants and citizens should be treated alike by our criminal justice system.”

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