NEW YORK — Diminished local cooperation is putting federal immigration officers in dangerous situations as they track down foreign-born criminals, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say.
They say that more of their officers are out on the streets, eating up resources, because cities and states have passed legislation that limits many of the detention requests issued by immigration authorities.
For years, ICE has issued the detainers to local and state law enforcement agencies, asking them to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after they were scheduled for release from jail. Most detainees are then either taken into federal custody to face an immigration judge or be deported.
But more than 300 counties and cities, plus California, Connecticut, Illinois, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, have chosen to release immigrants, claiming too many people who have committed low-level offenses or no crime at all were being deported and unnecessarily separated from their families. Courts have said that honoring detainers without probable cause could result in a civil rights offense.
ICE insists that its priorities have changed and it is only focused on foreign-born criminals who are a threat to society. It deported nearly 316,000 people in fiscal year 2014.
In the first eight months of 2014, immigration officers filed roughly 105,000 requests for local enforcement agencies to hold immigrants, but local agencies declined 8,800 of the requests, according to data provided by immigration authorities.
Officers now face more danger because they can't just pick up foreign-born criminals in a safe environment like the Rikers Island jail, said Christopher Shanahan, field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in New York.
"We are in a situation in which we have to provide more men, more workers, more manpower in the streets, where it is more dangerous to take custody of somebody," said Shanahan. "On the street, when you go into a house, a place of employment, when you are arresting somebody, you don't know if they have weapons, you don't know the surroundings."
Last week, an Associated Press reporter and photographer accompanied officers as they conducted a series of early-morning arrests in the Bronx and Manhattan, part of a nationally coordinated operation that netted 2,059 people.
A half-dozen ICE officers met at 5:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a Bronx coffee shop, put on black bulletproof vests and reviewed the three people they would try to arrest that morning. After driving quickly to each location in unmarked cars with sirens blaring, they made two arrests: a Mexican man and a Dominican man accused of illegally re-entering into the country, which is considered a high priority for ICE.
The Mexican man had been arrested 10 times by local police for driving without a license and then deported. The man, who was not identified per Department of Homeland Security policy, re-entered the U.S. illegally and then was accused of menacing a neighbor with a machete. ICE said it had issued a detainer for the man that was not honored by the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the legislation that limited cooperation with ICE in November. The law bars cooperation with detainers unless there's a federal warrant and the person is on the terrorist watch list or committed a serious crime in the past five years.
From October 2013 through September 2014, the New York City Police Department received 2,635 immigration detainers. Of those, it held 196 individuals. The city says no ICE detainers have been honored this year.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who proposed the limitations, said ICE officials for years "cast a dragnet at Rikers Island" that resulted in unnecessary deportations.
"In addition to being unfair, ICE's policies were an offense to the rule of law and yet another symptom of our broken immigration system," Mark-Viverito said in a statement.
In California, only immigrants illegally in the United States who have been convicted of a serious offense are eligible for the 48-hour hold.
David Marin, deputy field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in Los Angeles, said that of the seven counties that form the Los Angeles area of operation only two honor detainers that meet those standards.
More than one-fourth of the people arrested by ICE in the Los Angeles area last week had recently been released onto the street by local authorities despite ICE detainer requests. Fifty-nine of the 218 individuals detained by ICE during the enforcement action had been the subject of immigration detainers, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
The issue is not black-and-white, says Muzaffar Chishti, New York director of the Migration Policy Institute.
"My feeling is that, at some level, both (sides) are right", said Chishti. "This is a classic case of where you stand on issues depends on where you sit. The concerns and the priorities of the city and police are very different from the concerns and priorities of the federal government."
Associated Press writer Amy Taxin contributed to this report.