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Immigration Status Off-Limits For D.C. Police

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Latino advocates hold a banner outside the Wilson Building on October 10 to raise awareness about the "Secure Communities" initiative.
Patrick Madden
Latino advocates hold a banner outside the Wilson Building on October 10 to raise awareness about the "Secure Communities" initiative.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed an executive order Wednesday barring police and public safety agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or contacting federal immigration authorities.

“This executive order ensures public safety by ensuring that our police resources are deployed wisely and our immigrant communities feel safe cooperating with those who are sworn to protect them,” Mayor Gray said in a release.

Gray was met with large cheers when he signed the order at his weekly press conference at the Wilson Building, but the order appears to be largely symbolic, and doesn’t address the federal deportation program known as Secure Communities.

For months advocates for the Latino community have been pressing city leaders to reject Secure Communities, a federal program which mandates that local police share arrest information like fingerprint data with immigration authorities, and calling for Gray to live up to his promises.

In 2010, as then-chair of the D.C. Council, Gray – along with his 12 colleagues – passed a resolution barring D.C.’s participation in Secure Communities. Fast forward a year: Gray is now mayor and Secure Communities is no longer considered optional: the federal government say all jurisdictions must participate by 2013. 

Still, authorities in D.C. say they modified their policies to assure immigrant communities that police are not out looking to catch undocumented immigrants. For example, unlike other places, police in D.C. only pass along fingerprint data for serious crimes, not low-level, misdemeanor arrests. And District authorities also say they will no longer hold a person in jail under an immigration detainer for more than 48 hours.

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