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Police Commission eases LAPD's illegal immigrant policy

December 11, 2012 |  1:42 pm

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck in 2011.

The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday approved a plan from Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck to no longer turn over illegal immigrants arrested in low-level crimes to federal authorities for deportation.

The new rules, which are expected to go into effect early next month and affect about 400 people arrested each year, mark a significant move by the state's most influential local police agency to distance itself from federal immigration policies that Beck has said unfairly affects undocumented immigrants who are caught committing petty offenses.

For years, police departments have sent fingerprint information on every person arrested to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Federal officials, in turn, use the fingerprints to identify people suspected of being in the country illegally and often ask local agencies to put a 48-hour hold -- a detainer in law enforcement jargon -- on people.

These detainers authorized police to keep suspected illegal immigrants in custody for 48 hours longer than they otherwise would have been held in order to give ICE officials time to take them into federal custody.

Until now, the LAPD honored all ICE detainer requests, regardless of what offense the person was suspected of committing.

When Beck announced the outline of his plan in October, he said he supported the basic idea of cooperating with federal officials, but believed ICE officials had failed to distinguish between violent criminals and those accused of low-level offenses.

Under the terms of the new policy, the LAPD will continue to honor detainer requests for anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony offense, a misdemeanor charge with a bail above $5,000, or a vehicle violation with a bail of more than $2,500, according to a report presented to the commission at a meeting Tuesday. Documented gang members and people with previous felony convictions will also be detained regardless of their offense.

Otherwise, unless ICE officials can spell out special circumstances that require someone be held, the department will release people after they have been booked and ordered to appear in court for the alleged crime.

Several immigrant-rights advocates spoke out against the plan, claiming it did not do enough to protect illegal immigrants.

Commissioner John Mack called the plan "an enlightened first step," telling the critics that the policy "was not set in stone" and may be revised again in the future if police officials believe it is warranted.


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--Joel Rubin at LAPD headquarters (@joelrubin)

Photo: Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck in 2011. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times