The Trump administration took a step forward Monday in its plan to publicize crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
In the first of what will be weekly reports, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of instances in which local law enforcement agencies declined requests (known as detainers) from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold arrested immigrants — undocumented or, in some cases, not — in jail until they could be deported. The report lists 206 such releases, all from the week of Jan. 28.
The report does not list the names of immigrants released from local jails. However, it includes information specific to each person released, including their country of origin and the violation for which they were originally held in custody. During a call with reporters Monday, senior DHS officials indicated that many county jails list the names of inmates in public databases, which can be used to identify people listed in the DHS report.
Furthermore, a DHS spokesperson said the department was actively working with its in-house lawyers to find ways to release the names of immigrants in future reports without contravening federal law.
This is all in response to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 that instructed federal agencies not to apply the Privacy Act of 1974 to people who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
In a release accompanying the report, DHS referred to the immigrants listed as "criminal aliens" who "may pose a threat to our community." Trump's original executive order calling for the publishing of this information said it would "better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions."
The report includes immigrants who were merely charged with — not convicted of — criminal offenses. The offenses listed in the report range from violent crimes to traffic violations, marijuana possession, and property damage.
One charge from Bastrop County, Texas is simply "liquor."
ICE detainers have long been opposed by immigrant and civil rights advocates, who argue that, in the absence of a warrant from a judge, they amount to unconstitutional demands by the federal government for local authorities to detain people without probable cause.
Most self-proclaimed sanctuary jurisdictions decline to honor detainers — and so do many jurisdictions that do not consider themselves sanctuaries, in part to avoid constitutional challenges. In four separate cases, federal courts have "found key aspects of ICE's detainer system unconstitutional," according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Three of those cases involve lawsuits against jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Rhode Island that were chastised in today's DHS report for releasing immigrants.
"Having these lists is a way of trying to bully localities into questioning their policies when their policies are constitutional and legally sound, and in fact it's ICE that should be questioning their policies," said Avideh Moussavian, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.
Organizations that track extremism and hate crimes have expressed concern that the Trump administration's policy of publicizing crimes allegedly committed by immigrants may lead to an increase in violence against undocumented people, Latinos, and other minorities.
"I think this is a truly terrifying decision that DHS has made," said Lindsay Schubiner of the Center for New Community, a group that tracks what it calls "organized bigotry." "These weekly releases have the effect of criminalizing immigrants in the public imagination."
Schubiner compared the reports to lists of crimes committed by Jews that were published by the Third Reich prior to the Holocaust, and to lists of crimes committed by black Americans published by the Conservative Citizens Council, a segregationist group. Dylann Roof said that those lists contributed to his decision to gun down nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for strict immigration enforcement and has several ties to the Trump administration, rejected these comparisons.
"Whatever their philosophical opposition is to the idea that nobody should ever be deported," Stein said, "it doesn't justify these wacked-out, outer-space, other-worldly examples that have no basis in reality."
A spokesperson for the White House declined to comment.