Prison

Illegal immigrants who are arrested in minor crimes will no longer be targeted for deportation, the Obama administration announced Friday in an apparent concession to the increasing number of jurisdictions pushing back against its Secure Communities program.

Immigrant advocates as well as some police chiefs and sheriffs have complained that detention orders under the program were being issued indiscriminately, snaring people who were driving without a license or selling tamales on private property.

“In order to further enhance our ability to focus enforcement efforts on serious offenders, we are changing who ICE will issue detainers against,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a statement. “We are constantly looking for ways to ensure that we are doing everything we can to utilize our resources in a way that maximizes public safety.”

In October, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that his department would no longer comply with federal requests to hold low-level arrestees without significant criminal records. California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris asserted earlier this month that the detainers were voluntary, not mandatory, prompting Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to reverse his policy of honoring detention orders for all arrestees.

A Baca spokesman called Friday’s directive “a huge step forward.” The change came several weeks after Baca and other California sheriffs met with Morton.

“The serious criminals who are coming back into this country and committing more crimes, they’re the ones who should be in jail, not the low-level offenders,” spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

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