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Obama administration sets up new hotline for immigration detainees

By Nick Valencia, CNN
updated 5:25 AM EST, Fri December 30, 2011
 An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, chained for being charged as a criminal, prepares to board a deportation flight to Guatemala City, Guatemala, on June 24 in Mesa, Arizona.
An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, chained for being charged as a criminal, prepares to board a deportation flight to Guatemala City, Guatemala, on June 24 in Mesa, Arizona.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new federal hotline is set up for immigration detainees
  • The line is for detainees who "may be U.S. citizens or victims of a crime"
  • Meanwhile, new immigration laws are set to go into effect in some states on January 1
  • The new laws require businesses to verify immigration status of workers

(CNN) -- In the latest volley between the federal government and states pushing anti-illegal-immigration laws, the Obama administration announced Thursday it was establishing a new hotline for immigration detainees who feel they "may be U.S. citizens or victims of a crime."

The 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week hotline is part of a "broader effort to improve our immigration enforcement process and prioritize resources to focus on threats to public safety, (on) repeat immigration law violators, recent border entrants, and immigration fugitives while continuing to strengthen oversight of the nation's immigration detention system and facilitate legal immigration," a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.

The new measure was launched by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure detained individuals "are made aware of their rights" or "properly notified about their potential removal from the country," according to the release. The hotline number is 855-448-6903.

A new "detainer" form -- which includes Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Vietnamese translations -- also is part of the new policy. The detainer -- or notice to detain -- form is official paperwork giving law enforcement the authority to hold a person in custody for a time.

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"The new form allows ICE to make the detainer operative only upon the individual's conviction of the offense for which he or she was arrested," the release said.

Immigration rights advocates told CNN there "has long been a need for more accountability and oversight of the issuance of immigration detainers."

"The ACLU and other advocates identified four native-born U.S. citizens who were held unlawfully in custody through immigration detainers in Los Angeles County. One of these citizens was held for two days because of an immigration detainer despite repeatedly telling officers that he was a U.S. citizen," Laura Vazquez, immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza, told CNN in a statement. The council is a national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

CNN attempted to get reaction on the new policy from the attorneys general in Alabama and Arizona -- two states viewed as having among the most strict immigration reform laws -- but were unsuccessful. An official in the Alabama attorney general's office said Thursday officials had no comment.

The move by DHS comes just before the beginning of the new year, when new immigration laws in Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia will require businesses to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to ensure employees are eligible to work in the United States, according National Conference of State Legislatures.

E-Verify is a controversial program designed to check a prospective employee's citizenship or immigration status.

Supporters say it helps businesses avoid unintentionally hiring illegal immigrants. Critics complain that it is expensive to operate, pushes undocumented workers further underground, and is not always accurate.

CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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