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Critics slam LAPD for easing illegal immigrant deportations; others praise

The Los Angeles Police Department has come under criticism from some corners after Chief Charlie Beck announced that hundreds of illegal immigrants arrested by his officers each year for low-level offenses would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

"What the LAPD is doing is making federal law enforcement decisions, usurping federal law," said Janis Kephart, national security policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies. "These policies create chaos where you absolutely need continuity of enforcement."

But other praised the move.

Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and other supporters of the vetoed Trust Act, praised Beck and tried to position themselves for future negotiations with him. "We look forward to working with the police chief … to craft a policy that protects Los Angeles from the disruptions caused by the dangerous" federal laws.

Talk back LA

Times readers have been squaring off on both sides of the question on our comments section.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to address Beck's policy change directly, but seemed to bristle somewhat at the move.

"ICE has been dedicated to implementing smart, effective reforms to the immigration system that allow it to focus its resources on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators," agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement. "The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities."

Beck said he hopes to have the new rules in place by the start of the new year. They first must be approved by the Police Commission, a civilian oversight board.

Beck portrayed the move as necessary to counter federal laws that require local police to share information with federal immigration officials about arrests. Federal officials review that information and each year request that police departments detain thousands of people suspected of being in the country illegally. These laws, Beck said, have "a very valid core premise: That you should use the power of the government … to keep and increase public safety. And you should do that by targeting the most serious and violent criminals.

"Unfortunately, that has not always been the case," Beck said, adding that immigration officials fail to distinguish between dangerous criminals in the country illegally and illegal immigrants suspected of committing petty crimes.

That heavy-handed approach, Beck said, "has eroded the public trust." The erosion of that trust is hurting the LAPD's ability to police effectively in a city that is home to an estimated 750,000 illegal immigrants, Beck said.

The challenge for police in a city with such a large shadow population fearful of contact with authority figures is not a new one. More than 30 years ago, the LAPD adopted Special Order 40, a guiding policy that barred officers from making contact with a person solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status. It was an attempt to assure illegal immigrants that they could come forward as witnesses or victims of crimes without fear of deportation. Beck said his proposed reforms would reaffirm that principle.

"It strikes me as somebody who runs a police department that is 45% Hispanic and polices a city that is at least that, that we need to build trust in these communities and we need to build cooperation or we won't be prepared," Beck said.

Currently, the LAPD sends ICE the fingerprints of every person it arrests and books, roughly 100,000 suspects each year. In about 3,400 cases, Beck said, the agency requests the LAPD to place a 48-hour hold, known as a "detainer," in order to give federal agents time to take the individual into custody. The LAPD has honored all of those requests in the past.

Under the new plan, however, the LAPD would not keep people in custody for immigration officials if they have been arrested for certain nonviolent misdemeanors. Beck said the details of who would be affected are still being worked out, but listed offenses such as illegal vending, driving without a license and drinking in public as examples of the types of crimes that will be exempt. Documented gang members or anyone with a violent criminal past will still be held, he said.

Beck said he had sought a legal opinion from City Atty. Carmen Trutanich on whether police had the authority to ignore ICE detainer requests. He said Trutanich recently advised him that police do have such discretion.

The move comes on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown's decision this week to veto the Trust Act, a proposed law that would have gone much further than Beck's proposed changes in barring local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal authorities in detaining suspected illegal immigrants, except in cases of serious or violent crime.

 

Beck acknowledged his proposal would leave advocates on both sides unsatisfied.

"What I'm doing won't go as far as what many want and it goes much further than other people think I should go," he said.

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-- Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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