The District of Columbia City Council is considering action that will keep police from joining a program which shares fingerprint data with federal immigration authorities.
A bill was recently introduced to the Council by At-Large Councilman Phil Mendelson and has the backing of most of his peers.
The bill, which has been referred to the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, will seek to prohibit police from transmitting arrest data to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Once the bill moves from the committee, the full council will vote on it.
The bill would work in contrast to the Secure Communities program, which sends inmates' fingerprint information to the ICE and FBI – and essentially makes it a responsibility of local police to enforce federal immigration laws.
Mendelson told the AFRO that there’s evidence the program is counterproductive to community policing, particularly among Blacks and Hispanics who—if it’s implemented in the District – might resent or stop cooperating with the police.
"There have been a number of comments about how it lends itself to racial profiling and [to fostering] domestic violence,” Mendelson said. “A number of advocates who work to put an end to domestic violence have been critical of the program because they argue that the [immigrant] victims will be less likely to call the police if any issue is likely to arise about them being in the country illegally."
Currently, police departments in 19 states—including parts of Virginia and Maryland – already participate in the program, which has been beneficial in identifying and removing convicted criminals from communities near the District.
Because all classes of people would be subjected to the fingerprinting – and contrary to Mendelson’s sentiments – program officials claim it leaves no room for racial profiling.
However, the program mirrors the situation in Arizona where a new law, opponents say, sanctions racial profiling in dealing with illegal immigrants.
In that matter, several civil rights organizations, including the National Council of La Raza –the largest Hispanic rights advocacy group in the country – have banned together calling for a boycott of the mandate which recently went into effect.
Elena LaCayo, a District-based La Raza immigration field coordinator, said the city would be the first jurisdiction in the country to opt out of the program if the bill passes.
She said her organization has found delegating immigration enforcement to local police to be problematic. “Because it’s led to less safety for cities or jurisdictions, we don’t believe it’s a good community measure,” LaCayo said. “We just think that it’s misguided – especially when local jurisdictions take it upon themselves to enforce federal law.”