In an effort to combat the harsh immigration laws of states like Alabama and Arizona, the District of Columbia City Council recently approved legislation to limit the city’s Secure Communities program. Although each state must comply with federal immigration policy, some cities are fighting back by attempting to restrict the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to detain illegal immigrants.

Under the Secure Communities program, local law enforcement must provide fingerprints to federal immigration officials, so that ICE can detain suspects who may be in the United States illegally. However, immigration rights activists argue that the program could potentially scare undocumented immigrants away from working with police. The new D.C. immigration legislation would prevent ICE from being able to detain any illegal immigrant unless that immigrant is convicted of a serious crime, and would also reduce the length of detainment from 48 hours to 24 hours and require ICE to pay the costs of incarceration.

Chicago could also be facing an immigration policy change. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week that he would propose an ordinance to prevent local police officers from turning illegal immigrants over to ICE unless they are wanted for serious crimes or have serious criminal convictions. Emanuel stated that the new policy would be a part of his efforts to make Chicago “the most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”

In California, the TRUST Act recently passed in the Senate and now awaits consideration in the State Assembly. Between October 2008 and April 2012, California deported some 72,000 people, many of them through the Secure Communities program. The new legislation bears a strong similarity to the new policies in Chicago and D.C., and would bar local law enforcement from handing illegal immigrants to federal officials if they have not been convicted of a serious crime.

Supporters of all three policy changes cite Arizona as the immigration model they are looking to avoid:

"We want to be the anti-Arizona," Sarahi Uribe, a D.C.-based organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told The Huffington Post. "Our entire campaign to get cities to break ties with federal immigration enforcement is an effort to be the opposite of Arizona."

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s controversial immigration law in June, but upheld the provision of the law that allows immigration status checks during law enforcement stops. Critics of the law say that it encourages racial profiling, and breaks trust between minority communities and law enforcement.  California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who sponsored the TRUST Act, said “California cannot afford to become another Arizona.” 

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