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Monday, July 16,2012

Obama’s Next Immigration Battle: Local, Federal Authorities on Collision Course over Detention

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Last Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to announce that he didn’t want his city’s law-enforcement authorities to follow federal requests to hold some undocumented immigrants, picked up on other charges, for deportation. The national media’s ears perked up. Emanuel, a former Chief of Staff to President Obama, was at loggerheads with his old boss — good copy in the making. But on the same day, back in Washington, D.C., much bigger news was developing on the future of federal and local cooperation on immigration policy. John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told a House subcommittee that his efforts to persuade officials to honor any of ICE’s detention requests in the jurisdiction of Cook County, which includes Chicago, had hit a wall. “I won’t sugarcoat it,” he said. “I don’t think that approach is going to work in full.”

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress she was “evaluating all options” to compel Cook County, Illinois, to go along with ICE’s requests, known as “detainers,” under a program called Secure Communities, launched in late 2008 to focus immigration enforcement on criminal aliens. Morton reiterated Napolitano’s warning, but his grim assessment of the Cook County situation added further gravity to the statement: “We’ve been exploring, as the Secretary has said, our options under federal law with the Department of Justice, and we will see where that goes.” Translation: the Obama Administration has discussed the possibility of suing a jurisdiction because it’s too lax in enforcing federal immigration priorities, a mirror image of the legal drama the Administration just went through with Arizona’s law, which the Supreme Court partially struck down in June.

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