Ending ‘Secure Communities’ on Long Island?

(Photo via La Tribuna Hispana)

(Photo via La Tribuna Hispana)

Since Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco chose to end cooperation between his department – which oversees the county’s prison facilities – with Secure Communities, a program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), pro-immigrant advocates in Nassau County have been calling for a similar change.

In short, this means that once incarcerated immigrants finish serving their time at correctional centers, they won’t be detained longer so that immigration agents can take them into custody.

Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, highlighted the importance of the sheriff’s decision: “I think it’s very positive news for our community; not only for those facing the deportation process, but also because it affects public safety. Witnesses or victims of crime often don’t want contact with local cops due to fear of their [now] former collaboration with ICE.”

Under Secure Communities – a federal program that has been criticized by pro-immigrant groups and elected officials throughout the nation – ICE can request that incarcerated individuals be detained beyond their release date, even if a local judge has ordered authorities to let them go or if they have paid bail.

Federal courts have recently found that complying with Secure Communities is optional, and that keeping people in jail for any additional length of time could get a county in legal trouble for violating constitutional rights.

The only exception to the new policy is if ICE presents a warrant in cases where the incarcerated person is involved in a felony.

Calling for a similar change in Nassau County

Nassau and Suffolk Counties began participating in Secure Communities in 2011.

In 2012, Suffolk County provided more than 55,000 names to the ICE database, of which 3,900 appeared in the federal one, leading to ICE arresting 357 people. Nassau County gave more than 29,000 names; more than 3,100 showed up in the federal database, which resulted in 239 deportations, according to ICE’s own statistics.

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Department said it modified its policy last June, requiring federal immigration agents to show an “administrative order” at a minimum before detaining prisoners beyond their release date.

However, pro-immigrant groups are pressuring Nassau County to change the regulation because any ICE agent can sign an “administrative order.” Immigration rights advocates want a judge to sign it [instead].

A question of politics

Within this [local] context, Altschuler explained that changes happen in response to politics. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is a Democrat, while Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano is Republican. Furthermore, in Nassau County the sheriff gets appointed by the executive, while in Suffolk County the sheriff is elected.

“In Nassau County, the sheriff only needs an administrative order from ICE to detain incarcerated individuals beyond their release date. A warrant will be required [to do that] in Suffolk County,” said Altschuler.

In Suffolk County, the new measure means that once 48 hours have gone by [beyond a release date], any undocumented immigrant who is detained because of a legal process will not be handed over to ICE for deportation, unless ICE shows a warrant from a judge.

“Detained individuals will no longer run the risk of being transferred to a federal jail outside the state, which ensures they’ll receive due process and that their rights will be protected,” said Altschuler.

Waiting with caution

Attorney David Sperling, who specializes in immigration issues, told LTH: “We have to wait and see how they’re going to implement this new policy in Suffolk County, but it’s definitely a major step forward.”

ICE was previously able to request that undocumented individuals – and even permanent residents – in jail be held for 48 hours [beyond their scheduled release], Sperling explained.

“They held people not just because of the crimes [they committed], but because they were in the country illegally. Many innocent immigrants or those only guilty of a misdemeanor were deported; this caused a lot of pain for their family members here. This was somewhat against the law in the sense that there was no ‘probable cause’ to keep them in jail,” said Sperling.

He added that under the new policy, authorities can always detain immigrants beyond their release date, but will need a warrant to do so.

“This policy will surely protect immigrants who were detained or convicted of misdemeanors, and it spells good news for immigrants without citizenship in Suffolk County.”


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