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LAPD won’t honor federal requests to detain some illegal immigrants

October 4, 2012 |  1:09 pm

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced Thursday that his department will no longer honor requests from federal immigration officials to detain hundreds of illegal immigrants who are arrested each year for low-level crimes and wanted for deportation.

The proposed changes to LAPD protocols are the latest, and most dramatic, move by Beck to redefine the department's position on immigration issues. While the change is expected to impact only about 400 arrests a year, it marks a dramatic attempt by the nation's second-largest police department to distance itself from federal immigration policies that Beck says unfairly treats nonviolent offenders who are illegal immigrants.

Earlier this year, the chief pushed through a controversial plan that limits the cases in which police officers impound vehicles of drivers operating without a license -- a group consisting largely of illegal immigrants. And he came out in favor of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. 

Those earlier forays into the contentious arena of immigration policy earned Beck criticism from those who saw him as going soft on the rule of law and praise from immigration reform advocates. 

This latest proposal, announced at a morning news conference, is certain to put Beck squarely back in that spotlight. The chief 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.

Currently, the LAPD forwards information to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on the roughly 100,000 people it arrests and books into custody each year. In about 3,400 cases each year, Beck said, the federal agency requests the LAPD to place a 48-hour hold on the people arrested in order to give federal agents time to take custody of them and begin deportation proceedings. The LAPD has honored all of those requests in the past.

Under the terms of 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 impacted are still being worked out, but gave 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 for immigration officials, Beck said.

Beck presented the changes as a way for the department to rebuild trust with the city's enormous immigrant population -- a trust that, he said, has been eroded over the years by the heavy-handed approach immigration officials have taken in which they have failed to distinguish violent, dangerous criminals from those committing petty crimes.

“I believe it makes the city a safer place for everyone,” Beck said. “We need to build trust in these communities. We need to build cooperation.”

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.

ICE officials had no immediate comment on the LAPD’s policy change.

However, in January, ICE Director John Morton expressed serious concerns about the decision by authorities in Cook County, Ill., to ignore all of the so-called detainer requests. Morton said the action “undermines public safety,” and hindered the federal agency’s “ability to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.”

Morton also said that ordinance could violate federal law and urged local officials to reconsider.

Regarding the legality of his proposed move, Beck said City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's staff had provided him a legal opinion that local police departments can choose whether to honor ICE detainer requests.


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--Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein at LAPD headquarters