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Local police and immigration enforcement under the Trump administration

By: Dan Stageman, PhD – Director of Research Operations in the Office for the Advancement of Research at CUNY – John Jay College.

I began drafting a speculative blog entry about the Trump Administration’s likely actions on immigration enforcement before I caught the news of yesterday’s executive orders on the subject. That entry began with some thoughts on the uncertainty and unpredictability of the new administration’s actions in the immigration arena or any other. Just 24 hours later, those introductory paragraphs read like clueless optimism – the sort of hopeful, best-case-scenario thinking that many of us have continued to indulge in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.

As of January 25th, I’m ready to declare myself officially done trying to find silver linings. What is left for advocates and others concerned with the well-being of America’s immigrant communities is to gird for a long and bitter fight. As I begin to shape my own part in this fight, the anxiety around where to get the most return on investment for my limited time, energy, and expertise is profound. I don’t think there are any easy answers to this dilemma, but the time-honored exhortation to “think globally, act locally” has particular relevance in the context of an immigration enforcement regime that looks set to outdo all prior efforts to involve local law enforcement agencies as a “force multiplier.” Trump’s “deportation force” – an accurate-enough label for the planned trebling of the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, a glaring exception to an overall federal hiring freeze – will take considerable time to implement. In the meantime, he has clearly signaled his intention to rely on local law enforcement agencies to quickly ramp up deportation efforts, to a level that will likely make the record-setting pace of expulsions reached under President Obama’s first term seem humane by comparison.

In my last essay on this topic, I speculated that the Trump Administration might choose to take the broadest possible interpretation of section 287g of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, allowing it to ‘deputize’ any interested local law enforcement agency by signing a memorandum of agreement including the bare minimum of training and oversight. Trump’s January 25th executive order in fact goes much further, making a blanket declaration empowering local and state police to “perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention” of undocumented or deportable immigrants, “under section 287(g) of the INA, or otherwise.”

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration and potential local partners will interpret these provisions, just as it remains to be seen where and how they will be challenged by states and localities, in practice or in court. My own prior work on local immigration enforcement partnerships leads me to believe that local enforcement will be restarted (or ramped up, where it has been ongoing under 287g “jail enforcement” agreements signed with the Obama Administration) first – and with the most significant impact and potential harm to immigrant communities – in jurisdictions that fit a few key criteria. First, these “early adopter” jurisdictions will be headed by the same chief executives (most commonly elected county sheriffs) who signed 287g memorandums of agreement in the past. Second, they will be jurisdictions that started deportation proceedings for significant numbers of immigrant arrestees under these programs in the past. And third, they will be jurisdictions that have clear incentive(s) for directly involving their personnel in immigration enforcement at the local level. These incentives can be politically cynical or ideologically symbolic, but they are often straightforwardly financial: many of the same jurisdictions that have held 287g enforcement agreements in the past also host private/for-profit immigrant detention facilities to which they maintain close ties, or detain immigrants themselves under potentially lucrative Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs) under which ICE pays the jurisdiction a set per-day fee for each immigrant detained.

Using these and other characteristics, I believe we can anticipate with some accuracy the first round of jurisdictions that will move forward with local immigration enforcement efforts under cooperative agreements with the Trump Administration. We can also make informed judgements about the potential harm these agreements will pose to immigrant communities residing within the jurisdictions in question – and the potential for legislative, legal, political, or practical challenges brought by advocates to mitigate this harm.

In an effort to help advocates better focus their limited resources on effective and broadly impactful challenges to the Trump Administration’s local immigration enforcement efforts, I have begun pulling together the relevant data that I believe will help us make these judgements. This is the first entry in a series I have planned to highlight “five jurisdictions to watch” under the Trump administration’s local enforcement partnership efforts.

There are of course many more than five jurisdictions where ramped up local enforcement efforts are likely to harm immigrant communities, and even the most comprehensive statistical analysis would be limited in the predictive power it could provide. The purpose of organizing this series as a “listicle” is an acquiescence both to blogging culture and to the limits of my own time. It is not my intention, however, to promote an academic project, or protect and withhold privileged academic data. On the contrary, I plan to post the database as a public data tool, and I hope that sharing it in this and other forums helps to generate discussion on ways to make it more useful as a tool for advocates. Please contact me (or contribute a public comment) if you have any thoughts on how to do that.

Each jurisdiction profile will include the full list of facts and figures that justify its inclusion, along with a discussion of its previous involvement in immigration enforcement, its local political and state legislative context, its immigrant communities, and thoughts on what advocates could do (in many cases what they are already doing) to challenge or mitigate the potential harm of local enforcement. The five jurisdictions that I will profile are:

  • Orange County, California (Sheriff Sandra Hutchens)
  • Etowah County, Alabama (Sheriff Todd Entrekin)
  • Frederick County, Maryland (Sheriff Charles Jenkins)
  • Alamance County, North Carolina (Sheriff Terry S. Johnson)
  • Gwinett County, Georgia (Sheriff Butch Conway)

Time permitting, I will also include “(dis)honorable mention” profiles of Monmouth County, New Jersey (Sheriff Shaun Golden) and Butler County, Ohio (Sheriff Richard K. Jones). Note that these jurisdictions do not simply represent the top jurisdictions in terms of likelihood or likely harm of local immigration enforcement; as noted above, they are included based on my own best judgement of the available data. I’ve also made an effort to include jurisdictions from across a broad regional spectrum, to highlight the reality that this phenomenon is not exclusive to any given region – and the equally important fact that federal-state tensions on immigration are reflected in parallel state-local tensions. Thus our first profile will focus on Orange County, the lone 287g holdout in what is arguably the most pro-immigrant state in the nation.

Those who are interested should watch this space. I will post these profiles as I complete them, singly or in multiples as time permits. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to comment or contact me with any thoughts, questions, or requests.

Daniel L. Stageman, PhD is Director of Research Operations at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is also a criminologist whose scholarship focuses on making sense of America’s punitive approach to immigrants. He can be contacted at dstageman(at)jjay.cuny.edu

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