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Immigrant Rights

NEW (2017): Protecting Our Immigrant Communities (Resource page)

Getting Cities Out of the Deportation Business
Ensuring Language Access
Protecting Immigrant Residents

Getting Cities Out of the Deportation Business

Keep Families Together

Municipalities around the country are unnecessarily spending precious resources to hold individuals in custody in their local jails subject to “immigration detainers.” These detainers are requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to local law enforcement asking that an individual with potentially questionable immigration status be held by local authorities for 48 hours beyond the point at which his or her criminal case has been closed. Often these individuals have committed no crime (the case is dismissed) or they have committed a very low-level or status-based crime (driving without a license). A single encounter with the criminal justice system becomes a pipeline to deportation for thousands, a process that has been exacerbated by the rollout of the federal Secure Communities program (“S-Comm”, to opponents), which enables fingerprint sharing between the FBI and ICE.

The impact on communities is immense. Collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration authorities erodes trust between immigrant communities and the police, meaning families are less likely to report crime or cooperate in police investigations. Cities, strapped for revenue, spend literally millions of dollars holding immigrants for ICE after the resolution of criminal charges.

Municipalities around the country have responded to the human and economic impact of immigration detainers by enacting innovative “detainer discretion” policies, which direct local law enforcement to refuse to honor detainers under certain circumstances. Although immigration detain­ers are by their nature “requests” and local officials are not required to honor them, municipal detainer policies help to ensure that local criminal justice resources are conserved for their intended purpose and that immigrant communities are protected.

Detainer discretion policies are being enacted in cities around the nation, most recently in San Francisco. Municipalities have the power to create immigration reform at the local level and improve safety and quality of life for all residents. For more information on this issue, please click here.

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Ensuring Language Access

Over 25 million people in the United States are limited English proficient (LEP), which means that they are unable to read, write, or speak English well. Although federal civil rights laws require that most public and many private institutions provide interpretation and translation services to LEP individuals, often they do not. As a result, it is difficult and sometimes impossible for millions of people to get and hold jobs, feed their families, vote in an election, be on a jury, make doctors’ appointments, take medication, use the courts, receive an education, get and keep a home—basically, participate in all of the ordinary and extraordinary features of American life—because they do not speak English.

Vote Aqui

Under the 2001 Supreme Court decision of Alexander v. Sandoval, private litigants no longer have a right to bring the kinds of disparate impact discrimination suits that were previously the vehicle for enforcing language access claims. So local governments around the country have responded to language barriers and the weakening of federal enforcement by enacting stronger local language access policies, requiring city agencies, health care entities, and other service providers to ensure that interpretation and translation services are made available free of charge to LEP residents.

One important category of local language access laws apply to city agencies themselves, and ensure that key public-serving local agencies are linguistically accessible. The cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington, DC, all have statutes requiring city agencies to provide comprehensive language assistance services to LEP residents at no cost. New York City enacted a language access ordinance covering human services in 2003 and a mayoral executive order covering other city agencies in 2008. And the city of Chicago has created of an Office of New Americans, which is responsible for the creation of a centralized language access policy. Other cities can do the same and Local Progress is eager to work with leaders want to explore implementing such policies. For more information on language access, click here.

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Protecting Immigrant Residents

Fear of disclosing immigration status deters many immigrant families from seeking health and public services, including police protection, benefits, and economic supports. These fears are understandably amplified during periods of increased anti-immigrant sentiment. Six years ago, for example, a public hospital employee in New York City reported an undocumented immigrant to federal authorities, resulting in immigrant families “cancel[ling] doctor appointments or not seek[ing] care in clinics”; the hospital system strengthened and reaffirmed its privacy policy in response.

In 1996, the federal government enacted the Welfare Reform Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, both of which contained provisions relating to state and local government communication with the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Both were explicitly enacted to “prevent any State or local law, ordinance, executive order, policy, constitutional provision, or decision of any Federal or State court that prohibits or in any way restricts any communication between State and local officials and the INS.”

However, cities like New York responded by enacting executive orders that cover the confidentiality of a broad range of private information—for example, sexual orientation, victim status, public benefits recipient, as well as immigration status. By using innovative techniques to protect immigrants within a municipality, local elected officials can mitigate the impact of inhumane immigration policy. For more information, click here.

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