In Response to Recent Survey of Latinos on Police Enforcement of Immigration Laws on the Occasion of National Police Week and Peace Officer Memorial Day, May 15, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund , the nation’s leading Latino civil rights legal organization, and PolicyLink, a national research and action institute, have released a public safety policy agenda in response to an alarming finding in a recent survey of urban Latinos. The research revealed that at least 40 percent of urban Latinos are less likely to provide information to police because they fear exposing themselves, family or friends to a risk of deportation.

The policy recommendations are especially timely now, as National Police Week is being marked across the nation. The occasion highlights the need to honor the role of police as community members who protect and serve by ending the insidious programs that make them feared in communities.

During the past five years, the United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement division (ICE) has dramatically increased detentions and deportations by enlisting state and local law enforcement officials in immigration enforcement. This activity falls under the federal “Secure Communities” or S-Comm deportation program. S-Comm has led to the large-scale deportation of non-serious offenders who are arrested for civil immigration violations, an unanticipated outcome that lies at the very heart of growing mistrust of police within Latino communities. It has also created a serious crisis, in which increasing proportions of the community develop persistent distrust of law enforcement, threatening severe consequences to public safety.

As comprehensive immigration reform is debated, legislators, experts, and the public are giving more attention to ensuring that immigration enforcement is conducted in a manner consistent with promoting public safety. The policy recommendations developed by MALDEF and PolicyLink outline steps that the federal, state, and local governments can take to strengthen transparency, oversight, community trust and public safety.

1. Establish local and state-level safeguards to rebuild trust in local police
Pending federal reform of immigration detainer policy, states must take a proactive role to develop standards to inform and guide law enforcement responses to immigration detainers.

2. Fundamentally Reform ICE’s Secure Communities Program
The two most important steps that ICE could take to reduce S-Comm’s negative impact on police-community relations are:

(a.) Make the program voluntary, so that states and localities can choose whether or not to participate.
(b.) Explicitly limit its operation solely to those persons who have been convicted of a serious felony offense within the past five years, provided the conviction did not result from enforcement activities of a law enforcement agency that is under investigation by the Departments of Justice or Homeland Security for civil rights violations, or that has been found to have engaged in civil rights violations by either department.

3. Clarify the Use of Civil Immigration Detainers
ICE use of civil immigration detainers raises serious issues of practice, finance, and civil rights. A revised detainer policy should include the following requirements:

  • A statement that a detainer is a voluntary request, and that the receiving agency has discretion whether or not to comply with the request.
  • A limit on holding a person for 48 hours, after which the person has the right to be brought before a judge.
  • An enforced directive that a detainer should only be issued for an individual who has been convicted of a serious criminal offense.
  • An enforced directive that a detainer should not be issued to law enforcement on the basis of immigration offenses alone.

4. Take a Stand Against Profiling
Any program to identify non-citizens convicted of crimes must be based entirely on the individual’s criminal history, and should not be influenced by race or other factors:
  • Include a prohibition on stopping, searching or detaining a person motivated by considerations of race, color, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Emphasize that law enforcement’s primary role is public safety, not immigration enforcement.
  • The S-Comm program should be discontinued in any jurisdiction where local law enforcement is under investigation by the Departments of Justice or Homeland Security, or is in litigation, due to civil rights violations.

5. Improve Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability of the Program
As well as making substantive changes to S-Comm, the federal government should also significantly increase transparency surrounding the program.

There have been insufficient efforts to create oversight and accountability mechanisms for ICE agents and law enforcement officials. The Civil Rights Division receives complaints, and has shared its internal procedures for reviewing complaints, but actions to hold local officials or ICE officials at local offices accountable for civil rights violations have been insufficient.

The full policy agenda is available here.

Preserving and enhancing public safety requires trust between local police and the communities they serve. Clarifying the goals, methods, and limits of immigration law and/or regulation, and investing in information and training is essential. True change will also require a fundamental shift in the way non-citizens, particularly Latinos, are viewed in the United States. It will require immigration enforcement to return to operating under the sole authority and day-to-day operation of the federal government in order to protect the integrity of local law enforcement and the community relationships upon which it relies.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works. PolicyLink connects the work of people on the ground to the creation of sustainable communities of opportunity that allow everyone to participate and prosper.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund