City officials in the District of Columbia are holding firm on immigration, daring the federal government to make them enforce what’s perceived as invasive immigration practices. Thumbing his nose at federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mayor Vincent Gray signed an executive order instructing police officers and public service officials not to question the immigration status of persons with whom they have contact. The move makes the District stand out on the increasingly conservative national landscape over illegal immigration.
Washington, D.C.’s stance on illegal immigration is vastly different than that of some states including Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona. That’s not so surprising given the city’s dominant Democratic political machine and extremely liberal voting base, underscoring a local belief that they shouldn’t be conducting what they see as “witch-hunts” on immigrants. And the District rightfully lets federal officials handle the task that falls under their jurisdiction.
In the executive order, Gray promises that the city will not enforce ICE detainers or warrants stemming specifically from immigration violations. They are leaving those processes up to the FBI.
“In the spirit of ‘One City,’ and assuring the equal treatment of citizens and non-citizens alike, I am delighted to sign this,” the mayor said.
Recent arguments to crack down on illegal immigration have come primarily from conservatives seeking to slow or completely stop the flow of undocumented workers into the U.S. Politicians have played into voter fears, many of whom are struggling in the down economy, suggesting illegals are a primary reason for their problems.
As a way to deal with the over 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., conservative communities and states have overstepped the federal government in an effort to tackle the immigration issue. In Arizona, for example, the state government passed a law forcing police officers to detain anyone they thought may not be a legal citizen. The push back was so hard from Latino rights and civil liberties activists, and even the U.S. Justice Department, that a stay was issued preventing the law from taking effect.
Some observers, including some worried about labor shortage impacts on small businesses caused by aggressive immigration laws, see D.C.’s move as refreshing as it decides against following in the xenophobic footsteps of other jurisdictions across the country. While illegal immigration is an issue that can’t be left to fester because of obvious economic and national security risks. Many of these “tough” laws do not address the inherent profiling that comes with their enforcement.
How would an official differentiate between a bilingual citizen and an illegal immigrant without prejudice? Is there a specific look that would make someone “an illegal?” These are questions that hard-line immigration critics must answer and cities like D.C. don’t feel is worth wasting scarce resources on.
Opponents to Gray’s executive order cited similar arguments to those from conservative governors in the immigration fight. Kenneth Baumann, the chairman of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police labor committee had a mouthful to say.
“Vince Gray right now is under such duress, he is willing to pander and fold to any group in order to take the scrutiny off himself,” said Baumann, as quoted in The Washington Post. “He has now decided to go out and jeopardize public safety. This is not about regular immigrants. This is about hard-core criminals and bad, bad guys,” he added.
Others noted the irony of the nation’s capital almost ignoring federal law. It wouldn’t be the first time, though, that actions related to the District were against a larger national narrative.
Despite any opposition, officials in Washington D.C. plan to move forward with their “equal treatment of all persons” they come in contact with. There is hope that offenders don’t see this as carte blanche to violate laws. However, D.C. is deciding it won’t be complicit in handling tasks reserved for federal officials.