Feuer Sues DOJ Over Crime Fighting Grants

August 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Department of Justice to block what he calls an unconstitutional effort to withhold crime-fighting grant funds from cities that fail to act as “an arm of federal civil immigration policy.”

The Justice Department recently issued new requirements for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, including that jurisdictions would not be eligible unless they provide 48 hours notice before they “release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”

Feuer said he objected to the guidelines for several legal reasons, including that the Justice Department does not have the authority to impose rules on the grant because it was created by Congress.

The city attorney also said the guidelines were impractical because by law the city’s police department cannot hold someone past 48 hours unless an arrest falls over a weekend, making the guidelines unconstitutional.

“We’re suing to block the Trump Administration from unconstitutionally imposing its will on our city. The administration would put L.A. to the untenable choice of risking a key public safety grant or making LAPD an arm of federal civil immigration policy,” Feuer said. “The administration’s action
is as ironic as it is unlawful, since the funds at stake support a model L.A. program targeting violent gang-related crime.”

The Los Angeles Police Department has a longstanding policy of not initiating contact with a person just to ascertain their immigration status.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January and enacted a series of aggressive actions on illegal immigration, city leaders have repeatedly said they will not change their policies to have the LAPD enforce federal immigration law.

The city of Los Angeles received $1.55 million from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, according to Feuer. The city has received more than $1 million annually since 1997 from the grant.

Feuer outlined his objections in a letter to the Justice Department earlier this month.

“Unlike state prisons or Los Angeles County jails, the city’s detention facilities are not used to house inmates serving post-conviction sentences. As such, because Los Angeles rarely, if ever, holds detainees for 48 hours’ time, it is not possible for the city, or other similarly situated cities, to comply with the 48-hour advance notice provision posted in the JAG solicitation, without detaining individuals beyond the point at which they are entitled to release,” Feuer wrote.

Applications for the grant are due by Sept. 5, and Feuer said repeated attempts by his office to get clarification from the Justice Department have not been sufficiently answered.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco, where the city intends to join similar lawsuits filed last week by the state and San Francisco.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the new policies as necessary to help fight illegal immigration when he announced them last month.

“So-called `sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said when he announced the new guidelines in July. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by
perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law.”

City Council President Herb Wesson said he supported Feuer’s lawsuit.

“We have a responsibility to the families of Los Angeles to always fight for their safety and protection,” Wesson said. “Our city is a beacon of light for the rest of the country because we do not compromise our values, regardless of what the federal government demands.”

ICE Officers Told to Take Action Against All Undocumented Immigrants Encountered While on Duty

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.

In a February memo, Matthew Albence, a career official who heads the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE, informed his 5,700 deportation officers that, “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”

The Trump administration, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has been clear in promising to ramp up immigration enforcement, but has so far emphasized that its priority was deporting immigrants who posed a public safety threat. Indeed, Kelly, to whom Albence ultimately reports, had seemed to suggest a degree of discretion when he told the agencies under his command earlier this year that immigration officers “may” initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encountered. That guidance was issued just a day before Albence sent the memo to his staff.

A spokesman with ICE said Albence’s directive did not represent a break with Kelly’s stated aims, and was consistent with current agency policies.

“The memo directly supports the directions handed down in the executive orders and mirrors the language ICE consistently uses to describe its enforcement posture,” the spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement. “As Secretary Kelly and Acting Director [of ICE] Homan have stated repeatedly, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats; however, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.

However, Sarah Saldaña, who retired in January as head of ICE for the Obama administration, said the wording in the memo would have real consequences for undocumented immigrants.

“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” said Saldaña. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone above Matt Albence comes back and says, ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration.”

David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the fallout from the memo has been evident for months. “The memo explains what we have actually been seeing on the ground,” Bier said, asserting that immigrants without criminal backgrounds were routinely being arrested and ordered deported.

Since 2008, Congress had traditionally used its annual spending bill to instruct the secretary of homeland security to prioritize the deportation of convicted immigrants based on the severity of their crimes, but that language was left out of this year’s bill, helping to pave the way for broader enforcement.

In recent months, the number of undocumented immigrants arrested who are considered to be non-criminals has risen. (Under the law, merely being here illegally is not a crime. Rather, it’s a civil violation.) Between February and May, the Trump administration arrested, on average, 108 undocumented immigrants a day with no criminal record, an uptick of some 150 percent from the same time period a year ago.

For example, an Ecuadorean high schooler was detained by ICE agents who showed up at his home in upstate New York hours before his senior prom in June. Three restaurant workers targeted for immigration violations were arrested in May in Michigan after ICE agents ate breakfast where they worked. A Salvadoran man is facing deportation in Houston after voluntarily showing up to an ICE office for a routine check-in.

The ICE memo acknowledges that space in detention facilities limits the number of undocumented immigrants who can be detained upon apprehension. Still, it says ICE officials are mandated to begin deportation proceedings against all undocumented immigrants with whom they cross paths — even if those apprehended remain free as they face an immigration judge, a process that can take years.

Others may be swiftly deported if they are found to already have final deportation orders signed by an immigration judge. As of May 2016, there were 930,000 undocumented immigrants who had been ordered deported but remained freely in the country, according to ICE statistics.

“My concern is that what you end up doing is siphoning away resources that should go to the public safety threats,” said John Sandweg, who preceded Saldaña as acting ICE director.

The case of Oscar Millan shows ICE’s renewed focus on strict immigration enforcement. Under the Obama administration, agents had discretion in cases of immigrants with gravely sick children.

Under Obama-era guidelines, undocumented immigrants with no criminal record — but perhaps with a pending deportation order — could only be arrested if an agent’s supervisor determined their deportation “would serve an important federal interest.”

Homan has appeared to acknowledge the impact of the agency’s more aggressive approach even if he did not mention Albence’s explicit direction.

“There has been a significant increase in non-criminal arrests because we weren’t allowed to arrest them in the past administration,” Homan told a House committee. “You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.”

Both Homan and Albence are career employees who have worked for decades helping the government enforce immigration laws. Before Homan was promoted to lead ICE, he led ERO, with Albence as his assistant director.

“I expect that the agency believes that there is no one in the White House or DHS that is going to tell them ‘No. Don’t do this,’” Bier said. “And without an effective check in the administration we are going to see arrests being made without any regard to prioritization.”

Trump has yet to nominate a political director to lead ICE. In fact, all three immigration agencies under Homeland Security — ICE, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — are currently implementing Trump’s agenda while being led by career staff.

Homan has so far served as a vocal supporter of Trump’s ramped up immigration enforcement. Last week, he even made an appearance at a White House press briefing.

“Why do you think we got 11 million to 12 million people in this country [illegally] now?” Homan asked White House reporters. “Because there has been this notion that if you get by the Border Patrol, if you get in the United States, if you have a U.S. citizen kid, then no one is looking for you. But those days are over.”

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