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.