ACLU: Shield illegal immigrants from deportation by not enforcing low-level crimes
Civil rights groups said Wednesday that sanctuary city policies aren’t enough to thwart President Trump and called on state and local governments to stop enforcing what they deemed low-level crimes in order to keep immigrants off the Trump administration’s radar altogether.
A report for the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, and the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says that even in places where localities have refused to cooperate with deportation efforts, illegal immigrants are spotted by federal authorities when they show up in databases after arrests.
The answer, the groups said, is for local police to stop arresting immigrants — particularly those who are also racial, religious or sexual minorities — with crimes such as drug offenses, driving without a license, larceny and trespassing.
“In Trump’s America, immigrants have ample reason to fear that any interaction with the criminal legal system will result in the initiation of deportation proceedings against them,” the report said.
Another option is to reduce criminal penalties so legal immigrants convicted of offenses don’t rise to the level of being targets for deportation, the advocates said.
Denver has already done just that by cutting the sentences for some offenses to a maximum of 364 days rather than a full year. That change of a single day drops those offenders lower on the federal deportation priority list.
Prosecutors and judges have also cooperated in some cases, allowing immigrants to plead to lesser crimes in order to make them less likely targets for deportation.
The state’s attorney in Baltimore has a policy encouraging prosecutorial discretion to help immigrants avoid deportation. Brooklyn’s district attorney has a similar policy and brought in immigration lawyers to help prosecutors understand the decisions they were making and how they would appear to deportation officers.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, called the effort absurd. She said it would create a more lenient set of rules for illegal immigrants, effectively discriminating against citizens.
“This is opening a new front in the open borders advocacy war on immigration enforcement. It’s outrageous and dangerous,” she said.
She also warned of other consequences.
In Washington state, a policy signed this year by Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, barred authorities from making inquiries to state databases using Social Security numbers — a move meant to protect illegal immigrants. But KOMONews.com reported this week that police say they can’t even run numbers from traffic stops, meaning “dangerous criminals” who give false identities could go free.
One police official told KOMONews that not using Social Security numbers could also harm firearms purchase background checks because those numbers sometimes flag barred buyers when name checks don’t.
The battle between immigrant rights groups and federal immigration agencies has raged for years. The Obama administration perfected a system in which fingerprints taken during local police bookings were sent to the FBI, which shared information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, paving the way for more deportations.
Mr. Trump’s get-tough approach has put a finer point on the feud, particularly after he demanded better cooperation in holding illegal immigrants for deportation.
A number of states and localities politically opposed to the Trump administration seized on that issue, vowing obstruction as a way of underscoring a broader distaste for the president.
More than 400 counties adopted more lenient sanctuary policies last year, according to a study in January by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
California led the way by enacting three laws to thwart deportation efforts by federal immigration authorities.
The report Wednesday by the ACLU and Century Foundation called on states and localities to go beyond immigration. It said the best way to obstruct Mr. Trump and to protect vulnerable communities is to stop pursuing so many crimes.
The report in particular attacked the “broken windows” approach to policing, which argues that enforcing laws against small crimes prevents bigger crimes from occurring. The policy has been credited with major public safety gains, though civil rights advocates say it also has disproportionately landed minorities in the criminal justice system.
The report warned localities to limit cooperation in intelligence-gathering or joint missions with federal authorities, including anti-gang and anti-terrorism task forces.
Those task forces are used to unfairly target minorities, the Century Foundation report argued.
Even policing tools such as license plate readers, surveillance cameras and cellphone trackers can be harnessed to create a glut of data that “has left the door open to federal agents rummaging around in the private comings and goings of residents of cities and towns across the country,” the report says.
Localities are urged to put controls on the information they gather and how it can be accessed by federal agencies.
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