Travis County Should End Compliance With ICE’s “Secure Communities” Program

By Daniel Collins
Summer Policy Intern

Last week, the Washington D.C. Council announced they would refuse to comply with the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) controversial “Secure Communities” deportation program (“S-Comm”).  The program, under which ICE requests local law enforcement agencies detain arrested individuals with questionable immigration status so they may be taken into custody by ICE, is an open invitation to racial profiling, undermines trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and has led to the deportation of more than a million people, many arrested for low-level, non-violent offenses.

The nation’s capital joins a growing list of jurisdictions declining to participate in the federal government’s deportation dragnet.  Unfortunately, that trend has yet to reach Texas.   In fact, Austin—thought by many to be the Lone Star State’s most progressive city—deports more persons for low-level offenses than almost any other U.S. city!

One important fact: The decision to honor an ICE detainer request is completely discretionary.  In fact, under federal law such detainers must be voluntary and local governments risk being sued if they detain someone mistakenly or for too long.  Furthermore, local police have no business acting as de facto ICE agents.  Ultimately, S-Comm drives a wedge between local police and their communities by making undocumented community members afraid to report a crime for fear of being deported. There simply is nothing “secure” about that.

The law that just passed in Washington D.C. will instruct local police to only comply with detention requests for those over 18 who have been convicted of a dangerous crime.  Other jurisdictions like Milwaukee have enacted similar laws.  Other counties have taken more aggressive measures to keep S-Comm out of their communities.  Some, for example, have required ICE to reimburse local government for any costs of complying with a detainer, while others have simply ignored all of ICE’s requests.

So why in Texas do Travis County Jail officials honor every detainer from ICE?  Why is it that twice as many of the more than 2,000 total people deported from Travis County were arrested for only a misdemeanor offense?  Sheriff Greg Hamilton still believes the detainer requests are mandatory, despite ICE guidance and legal interpretation to the contrary.  He also argues that ICE detainers should be complied with because released persons might possibly commit violent crimes.  This argument simply cannot justify denying arrestees due process rights, or holding them without proof of crime.

In Austin, a coalition of local civil and human rights groups have called on city and county government to end compliance with S-Comm detainers.  Only with community support may it be ensured that Austin truly is a secure community for all residents.

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