By Kris Alingod

Washington, DC

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray has ordered law enforcement agencies in the nation's capital not to ask residents about their immigration status if they are arrested or questioned by police.

The executive order sigend on Wednesday makes official a policy that began under the administration of former Mayor Marion Barry in 1984. It also expands the policy to corrections agencies.

Gray, a Democrat who previously served as city council chair, said in a statement the order ensures that the district's large immigrant community feels safe participating in police investigations.

"The District is home to thousands of immigrants," the mayor said. "If they are afraid to cooperate with authorities on criminal investigations because they fear it might endanger their presence in the United States or the presence of a loved one, then it endangers their public safety and that of our entire city."

The district will continue to be part of the federal Secure Communities, a controversial program that will be fully functional nationwide by 2013.

Under the program, D.C. law enforcement officials share fingerprints of those suspects to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check in immigration databases. The program, which is being implemented jointly with the FBI, is supposed to target only illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

However, some states such as Illinois have opted out of the program due to the deportation of illegal immigrants without convictions. A number of Democrats have also urged an end to the program, calling it a "heavy-handed approach" that fuels mistrust among immigrants and affects local communities that depend on a large immigrant population.

Gray's new order does not change the district's participation in Secure Communities. D.C. police will continue to send fingerprints of those accused of major offenses, while withholding prints of people suspected of minor crimes. Federal officers have 48 hours to take custody of suspects who appear in immigration databases.

In addition, DC police will not be allowed to detain individuals on the basis of immigration status, a contrast to immigration laws enacted in Arizona and other states allowing police to detain people suspected of being illegal immigrants.

World - Washington DC Bans Police from Asking About Immigration Status | Global Viewpoint