Home » Uncategorized » Jurisdictions to watch on local enforcement, part two: Etowah County, Alabama

Jurisdictions to watch on local enforcement, part two: Etowah County, Alabama

This entry is the third in a series on the involvement of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement under the Trump Administration’s January 25th executive orders. Please see the January 26th introductory entry and January 30th entry on Orange County, California for context.

Since I introduced my ongoing database project on January 26th, focus on the Trump administration’s immigration policy has shifted precipitously – in the whiplash fashion that has become typical of the administration’s first days in office – to the travel ban affecting the nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries. As the legal battle over this executive order begins to look (at least temporarily) like a rare high-profile victory for the opposition, media attention has again begun to turn back to the administration’s developing approach to internal immigration enforcement. Conflicting reports of large-scale raids by ICE agents over the weekend follow closely on the heels of Trump’s Wednesday February 8th ‘roundtable’ with county sheriffs, a collection of supporters and ideologues culled largely from the leadership of the National Sheriffs’ Association. As an early endorser of the Trump campaign, the association and its membership rolls of elected sheriffs from largely rural counties across the nation have made highly visible efforts to align themselves with the new administration, putting them in the company of rank-and-file police unions like the Fraternal Order of Police and at odds (on several issues including immigration) with police leadership organizations like the Major Cities Chiefs Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police.

While I have yet to see a comprehensive list of the Sheriffs who attended Wednesday’s White House roundtable, none of the ten sheriffs named in the official transcript oversee jurisdictions with current 287g agreements. Two of the sheriffs mentioned in the lead-up to the event – Sandra Hutchens of Orange County, California (profiled in my last entry) and Daron Hall of Davidson County, Tennessee – do hold current 287g agreements. Regardless of whether Hutchens was present at the Sheriffs roundtable or not, Trump made a point of thanking her by name in his remarks to the Major Cities Chiefs Association earlier in the day.

Maintaining close ties with loyal supporters at different levels of government appears to be a characteristic feature of Trump’s approach to governance, so it will be important to watch closely the implications for immigration enforcement where these political connections are mirrored by administrative links like 287g. Etowah County has held contractual relationships with ICE (and its predecessor the INS) dating back to its first detention agreement in 1998; its 287g agreement, though a more recent endeavor, dates back at least until 2008. These administrative links do not, however, appear to be mirrored by political ones: Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin was in fact an early supporter of (relative) immigration moderate Marco Rubio. So why is Etowah County being profiled? It may help for me to quickly reiterate the key characteristics for inclusion in this series:

1) “Jurisdictions to watch” have operated consistently under the same chief executive since before the Obama administration’s efforts to reform 287g. In most cases, this means that the same individual who signed the jurisdiction’s first 287g memorandum of agreement is still making the relevant executive decisions about involvement in immigration enforcement moving forward.

2) They are (with few exceptions) county law enforcement agencies headed by elected sheriffs.

3) They have started deportation proceedings for significant numbers of immigrant arrestees under their 287g programs in the past.

4) They have clear incentives for directly involving their officers in immigration enforcement. While these incentives are often political, they are often financial as well, with direct income and/or indirect ‘economic activity’ arising from close ties to private/for-profit immigrant detention facilities located within the jurisdiction, and/or Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs) under which ICE pays the jurisdiction a per-day fee to detain immigrants in the local jail.

Etowah County in fact fulfills only three out of these four criteria, in that it does not appear to have started deportation proceedings for a significant number of immigrant arrestees under its 287g program, though it has arguably processed large numbers in proportion to its small overall population and even smaller immigrant population. Etowah County is an important jurisdiction for immigrant advocates because of this exception rather than in spite of it, because it presents an opportunity for engagement on issues of public safety that is unusual in 287g jurisdictions nationwide. Sheriff Entrekin, while a Republican serving what appears to be a highly conservative Alabama constituency, does not appear to be an ideologue; rather, his decision-making regarding immigration enforcement appears to be a pragmatic outgrowth of his agency’s long standing as an immigrant detention provider. The available evidence suggests that Entrekin recognizes the importance of open communication between immigrant communities and law enforcement, suggesting a public-safety orientation more typical of law enforcement executives in larger cities than elected sheriffs.


SHERIFF: Todd Entrekin.

Entrekin, a Republican, was first appointed Sheriff by then Alabama Governor Bob Riley in 2007, following the death of his elected predecessor, James Hayes. Entrekin has since won reelection twice, in 2010 and 2014. He has been an outspoken supporter of both 287g and Secure Communities, testifying before congress in support of both programs in 2011. This support does not appear to extend to the nativist political posturing adopted by some elected sheriffs, however: in his testimony regarding Alabama’s restrictive anti-immigrant 2011 state legislation, HB 56: Entrekin testified that the law “would not only burden local law enforcement in a negative fashion, it would burden other social services as well.”

ARRESTEES PROCESSED FOR DEPORTATION UNDER 287G: 63 in 2012 – a number considerably smaller than the thousands processed in many other 287g counties but proportionately significant for Etowah County’s low population (about 104 thousand residents, 3.3% of whom Hispanic or Latino).

ACTIVE IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITIES: The Etowah County Detention Center, with a capacity of 357, occupies an $8 million wing of the Etowah County Jail. The then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) funded this expansion directly in 2003, in order to outfit the facility to house long-term detainees. Despite this investment, conditions at the facility have long been considered problematic, sufficiently so that ICE announced the facility’s closure in 2010 (an effort that was halted by the political intervention of local representatives) and it was featured by the Detention Watch Network in its 2012 Expose & Close series as one of the “worst in the country.”

AVERAGE DAILY POPULATION (ADP) OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES: The Etowah County Jail held an average of 341 immigrants on any given day throughout 2012. Per diem/per detainee compensation was $45 in 2015 – consistent with rates at other Alabama facilities but among the lowest in the nation overall. Gross receipts for detention in Etowah thus exceed $5 million ($45 * 341 detainees * 365 days = $5.6 million); however, Etowah’s IGSA details compensation for additional services such as transportation that have the potential to add significantly to this total. A very small proportion of this total – about $170 thousand ($45 * 63 processed for deportation * 60 day average stay), or around 3% – could potentially be attributed to enforcement activity under 287g.

HISTORY OF 287G IN ETOWAH COUNTY, ALABAMA: As detailed above, 287g enforcement in Etowah County appears largely to be an outgrowth of the relationship established in 1998 with a detention contract, possibly reflecting a desire at the time of its original signing for closer ties to shore up the deteriorating status of the troubled Etowah County Detention Center. Having neither a significant undocumented immigrant community, nor (as one of the smallest and most densely populated counties in Alabama) a significant agricultural economy that might attract non-resident immigrant laborers, Etowah’s 287g program would be equally difficult to justify as a response to a clearly defined crime problem within an immigrant community, or postulate as a cynical attempt to increase detention numbers.

CONTEXT AROUND CONTINUED IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT UNDER 287G IN ETOWAH COUNTY, ALABAMA: Etowah County’s approach to 287g enforcement raises essential questions about the tools that advocates have at their disposal to directly address the relationship between federal immigration enforcement and local law enforcement agencies nationwide. The clearly problematic conditions for long-term detainees in the Etowah County Detention Center are an issue for another context; setting them aside, we can perhaps recognize Sheriff Entrekin as a pragmatic decision-maker, managing an inherited relationship with significant budgetary implications for his agency and jurisdiction overall. It is important for advocates to recognize the potential presented by a pragmatic sheriff who appears to prize evidence-based public safety concerns over ideological posturing. Credible messengers in a position to promote evidence-based public safety policy among elected county sheriffs are few and far between. This is in sharp contrast to law enforcement leadership from major cities: while it remains to be seen what impact the outspoken support for evidence-based public safety policy among the latter will have on federal law enforcement policy, they have at least set a precedent for engaging directly and publicly with the Trump administration on its law enforcement agenda.

To date, there is no parallel engagement effort on the part of elected county sheriffs; indeed, the National Sheriffs’ Association appears more interested in treating the administration’s first 100 days as a prolonged victory lap than engaging on general or specific issues related to an evidence based public safety agenda. How will 287g enforcement play out in a jurisdiction like Etowah given this context? Will it reflect the kind of outreach Sheriff Entrekin has recently made to the immigrant community in his jurisdiction, and if so, does this indicate the potential for direct engagement with Entrekin around the public safety implications of the Trump administration’s intended approach? For some pro-immigrant advocacy organizations, any goal short of ending local police involvement with immigration enforcement will be insufficient; nevertheless, the value of any ‘credible messenger’ within the ranks of the nation’s county sheriffs can hardly be overstated, especially one who might make a case for setting prudent limits around the use of immigration enforcement as a public safety tool. Whether Sheriff Entrekin has this potential remains to be seen, preferably through the lens of a more thorough local investigation.

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. This has been the second in his series of profiles of “jurisdictions to watch” on local immigration enforcement under the new policies promulgated by President Trump’s January 25th executive orders. Next up: Frederick County, Maryland.

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