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D.C. Council Limits Reach Of Secure Communities

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Immigration rights activists marched outside of George Mason University Law Center in 2011 to protest Secure Communities.
Patrick Madden
Immigration rights activists marched outside of George Mason University Law Center in 2011 to protest Secure Communities.

D.C. Council unanimously passed emergency legislation this week limiting the reach of a new federal immigration program.

The council's motion has inspired more debate, adding to the controversy already surrounding the federal program, as immigration advocates applaud the legislation, while some in law enforcement fear its potential repercussions.

The Secure Communities Program gives ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the authority to ask city law enforcement to share fingerprints with the FBI and detain any individuals whose information causes him or her to be flagged in ICE's database. The Council's legislation instructs police to ignore requests to continue to hold people who have only been arrested for low-level crimes.

National Immigration Project Associate Director, Paromita Shah, appearing on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, said the Council's legislation was designed to ensure fair treatment of undocumented immigrants — something she says doesn't happen when ICE is involved.

"They claim they target certain people who are considered to be dangerous, but the fact is that every fingerprint that is sent to the FBI is sent to ICE, if theres a match in the database or even if theres isn't," said Shah.

The Metropolitan Police, however, say refusing to allow extended detainment inhibits the department's work. "If we, the D.C. police, arrest a convicted child molester that is here illegally and ICE says hold that individual and they dont get down here in 24 hours, we're going to put that man back on the street," said Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee Chairman Kristopher Baumann.

Under the legislation, the city would hold people only if the federal government paid for the additional day of incarceration. Mayor Vincent Gray  is expected to sign the bill.

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