By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on Thursday unveiled plans to refrain from handing over illegal immigrants arrested for low-level offenses to federal authorities for potential deportation.
The move by Beck represented a victory for immigrant rights activists just days after California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed bill that would have extended statewide an approach similar to what Beck is proposing.
Under a federal program launched in 2008 called Secure Communities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials work in partnership with local law enforcement agencies to deport illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.
The program helped the federal government to deport a record high of about 400,000 illegal immigrants last year.
Beck told reporters he does not believe federal detentions under the program should apply to illegal immigrants arrested for "low-grade misdemeanor offenses" and similar crimes.
"The LAPD is proposing to no longer grant an ICE detainer request without first reviewing the seriousness of the offense for which the person is being held, as well as their prior arrest history and gang involvement," Beck said.
Beck said he believes in some cases the detention of illegal immigrants has unnecessarily split up families.
"Community trust is extremely important," he said. "It's my intent that we gain that trust back."
Beck said his department arrests about 105,000 people per year and receives ICE detainer requests for about 3,400 of them. About half of those requests are for misdemeanor crimes, which include everything from vandalism to driving offenses, and Beck said he believes about 400 of those requests would be denied by his department if his proposed policy goes into effect.
A representative for ICE could not be reached for comment.
Beck said his department would still honor ICE detention requests on all felonies, which include crimes of violence such as murder and assault, and that his goal was to implement the new protocols by January 1.
The proposal, which has the support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will have to be presented to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners for their review.
The law vetoed by Brown on Sunday would have made California the first state to bar local authorities from honoring federal detention requests on illegal immigrants, unless those individuals were charged or convicted of a serious or violent felony.
Brown faulted the bill for not exempting individuals who had committed crimes such as child abuse, drug trafficking and selling weapons. Law enforcement officials had opposed the bill, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)