State Legislatures Introduce Bills to Reduce Detention Rates of Nonviolent Undocumented Offenders

March 14, 2014

1409595_gavel_5.jpgAs comprehensive immigration reform has been spotlighted in the media for the past several months, one issue that is continually discussed is what the government can do to reduce the population of undocumented foreign nationals who are currently held in local jails.

In recent weeks, Maryland joined the ranks of other states including California and Connecticut when its state legislature proposed a bill that would decrease the undocumented population being held in Maryland state jails. The bill would accomplish this goal by allowing state jail administrators to circumvent certain provisions of a federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities.

The Secure Communities program requires state law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, particularly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The program allows ICE officers to identify and initiate deportation proceedings against undocumented foreign nationals who are either repeat or serious criminal offenders. Basically, Secure Communities helps ICE officers by allowing them to run any arrestee's fingerprints though an extensive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database. The database informs the officer if the arrestee is suspected of residing in the U.S. without immigration authorization.

If the database comes back with a hit to indicate the arrestee is undocumented, then the ICE official can instruct the state jail holding the foreign national to further detain the national until an immigration officer can come to the jail and transport the national to a federal ICE detention center. Thus, the Secure Communities program requires local and state jails to hold foreign nationals for a longer period of time than they normally would, in order to give federal immigration officers enough time to review the nationals' cases and decide how to proceed - at great effort and cost to the state and local jail systems.

Maryland's proposed legislation would empower its state and local jails to ignore these ICE requests and release undocumented foreign nationals provided the offenders do not have serious or violent criminal records, or otherwise pose a threat to the Maryland population. Additionally, to be released the foreign nationals would need to post bond or have been acquitted of pending charges.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the legislation has expectedly been met with support and opposition. Supporters of the bill feel that its provisions assist ICE officials in shifting their focus to pursuing the deportation of violent and serious criminal offenders. Conversely, the legislation's opponents are refusing to distinguish between violent and nonviolent undocumented foreign nationals. To the opponents, any undocumented foreign nationals should be deported with little to no exception.

This issue is especially timely now as the Sun recently revealed that statistics show that Maryland deports more noncriminal and nonviolent undocumented foreign nationals than all but four states. (Maryland's high deportation has yet to be explained as Governor O'Malley's letter to the DHS is still unanswered.)

The Rant

Maryland's proposed legislation is certainly a step in the right direction toward reducing the number of undocumented foreign nationals who are held in state and local jails. Holding prisoners costs the states - and therefore the American taxpayers - hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. By releasing nonviolent offenders, Maryland would likely save hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be redirected to fulfill the state's other needs. We hope the rest of the country will follow suit. Keep checking our blog as we continue to provide up-to-date immigration coverage.

Additional Blog Posts

Immigration Judges Request Separation from the Department of Justice, ImmigRantings, August 19, 2013

More States Expected to Exert Control Regarding Illegal Immigration Problems, ImmigRantings, August 3, 2013