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Illegal immigrants netted by local police could be released

The Obama administration directive comes as the president begins to assert control of the immigration issue.

Officers in Arizona's Maricopa County begin a processing a suspected illegal immigrant in this Jan. 23, 2007 photo. Maricopa County's sheriff has used his local authority to act as a de facto immigration agent, but federal authorities are seeking to focus local law-enforcement efforts on illegal immigrants seen as posing a threat to the US.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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Some undocumented immigrants swept up on minor charges such as fishing without a license won’t face federal detention. Instead, they’ll be released on their own recognizance under an Obama administration directive to a Nashville, Tenn., sheriff who charged 6,000 people with immigration crimes over the past 2-1/2 years.

The "release on recognizance" order by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security – could affect at least some of the 66 US law enforcement jurisdictions that are part of a controversial program which, in essence, deputizes local police to act as de facto immigration agents.

The directive, made earlier this month, is the result of overcrowding in federal prisons, but also ties into a broader, ongoing review of the program, known as 287(g), and its impact on immigrant communities.

“There hasn’t been a [policy] change: ICE always puts a priority on criminal aliens who pose a national security threat,” says Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman in Washington. But he acknowledges: “We are taking a deep, hard look at the program.”


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