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ICE’s Continuous Attempts to Co-opt Local Police to Serve As Frontline Immigration Agents are Unconstitutional and Harm Public Safety

Today Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the City of Chicago’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) defending its Welcoming City ordinance. The amicus brief explains constitutional and public safety concerns inherent in forcing local police to participate in federal immigration enforcement.

Earlier this month, the City of Chicago sued DOJ after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DOJ would cut federal funding for local law enforcement through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne JAG) to cities and states that refuse to have their local police act as immigration agents.

NIJC’s brief explains that over the past decade, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has aggressively expanded its immigration detainer program, even as constitutional problems and harmful effects on community policing continue to increase. According to the brief:

"It is against this backdrop that in 2012 Chicago amended its Welcoming City ordinance to restore the historic and constitutional line between the criminal justice system and civil immigration enforcement. ... The Welcoming City Ordinance, and its companion Cook County ordinance, protect local resources, ensure that residents’ constitutional rights are not violated, and foster community policing by assuring residents that interactions with police will not lead to deportation. ... DOJ’s unprecedented addition of immigration conditions to Byrne JAG is just the latest chapter in the Executive Branch’s aggressive attempts to coerce and conscript local law enforcement over the last ten years. Amici ask the Court to enjoin and hold unlawful these conditions to preserve trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

The brief outlines the recent increase in jurisdictions nationwide implementing sanctuary policies. Known in Chicago and other cities as Welcoming City ordinances, these laws have been enacted as a direct response to growing pressure from the federal government to entangle local law enforcement in unlawful deportation strategies, including unconstitutional detention. Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance prohibits the Chicago Police Department in many circumstances from complying with ICE detainers, which are warrantless requests to hold individuals for 48 hours beyond when they normally would be released from custody so that ICE can assume physical custody of the individual. The ordinance also prohibits Chicago police from inquiring about individuals’ immigration status. The number of local law enforcement agencies supporting Welcoming City policies has expanded across the country as police recognize that residents’ fear of deportation undermines public safety, prevents people from reporting crimes, and hinders community policing.

Courts around the country, including the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago and most recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, have ruled that the federal government’s immigration detainer practices are unlawful.

The National Immigrant Justice Center and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project are counsel for National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (AAAJ-ALC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Washington Defender Association (WDA). A separate supporting brief, filed today by Chicago’s Erie Neighborhood House, argues that complying with DOJ’s unjust demands would significantly harm Chicago families and irreparably damage trust between communities and local police.