LA police chief calls for releasing illegal immigrants involved in minor crimes

The Los Angeles police chief said Thursday he wants to stop honoring federal immigration detention requests in cases involving low-level crimes to regain the public's trust.

Chief Charlie Beck proposed no longer holding people arrested on public nuisance or low-grade misdemeanors such as illegal vending or driving without a license. The department would continue to detain immigrants arrested on serious crimes or with criminal backgrounds or gang affiliations if requested by federal authorities, he said.

If approved, the move would add the country's second-largest city to the list of jurisdictions that are distancing themselves from the federal government's Secure Communities program, which checks the immigration status of arrestees.

"The federal program that issues these detainers has a very valid core premise, and that is that you should use the power of the government and the power of the enforcement of immigration to keep and increase public safety, and you should do that by targeting those most serious and violent criminals," Beck told reporters.

"Unfortunately, that has not always been the case and that has eroded this public trust that local police departments such as the Los Angeles police department so depend on," he said.

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The announcement comes days after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill to limit local law enforcement involvement with Secure Communities, which is touted by federal officials as a crime-fighting tool and blasted by immigrant advocates who say it deters immigrants from reporting crime. It also comes after Santa Clara County and Cook County, Ill., stopped honoring immigration detainers under the program.

Details of Beck's plan have yet to be defined. The proposal would also need to be approved by the Board of Police Commissioners.

This year, the department expects that roughly 400 out of 3,400 requests for 48-hour immigration detainers will involve such low-level crimes.

Beck said he hopes the change can take effect Jan. 1.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Los Angeles is exploring an option not much different than the agency's established priorities.

"Over the past three and half years, ICE has been dedicated to implementing smart, effective reforms to the immigration system that allow it to focus its resources on criminals, recent border crossers and repeat immigration law violators," the agency said in a statement.

Immigrant advocates welcomed Beck's announcement. They said they hoped to work with city authorities to help craft a new policy, and that federal immigration officials would not interfere in the process.

"What matters is the way in which police interact with immigrants who deserve the same protection of civil rights and safety as all other residents in Los Angeles," Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement.