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Jurisdictions to watch on local enforcement, part four: Alamance County, North Carolina

This entry is the fourth in a series on the involvement of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement under the Trump Administration’s January 25th executive orders and the follow-up February 20th DHS implementation memos. Please see the January 26th introductory entry and prior entries on Orange County, California, Etowah County, Alabama, and Frederick County, Maryland for context.

In the two weeks since my last profile (of Frederick County, MD), media scrutiny of the 287g program has sharpened considerably. I’m particularly grateful to two journalists who have taken the time to better understand the incentive structures at play that may contribute to some sheriffs approaching 287g as an ‘entrepreneurial’ enforcement initiative: Bryan Schatz of Mother Jones, and Tanvi Misra of The Atlantic’s Citylab. Anna Flagg of The Marshall Project has also contributed her considerable visual acumen to portraying the rich historical data on 287g in the public domain in a way that lays bare the program’s national impact – and gives a sense of where immigrant communities may be the most vulnerable moving forward.

Media and public attention on immigration enforcement has become all the more vital in light of the Trump administration’s continued impact on the news cycle; the President’s announcement during his joint address to congress that he was open to ‘compromise immigration reform’ may not be a deliberate distraction from ongoing developments in enforcement and detention, but it certainly seems to have attracted significant media attention that might otherwise have been turned elsewhere. Among the substantive immigration enforcement developments that this and similar high-profile public announcements from the White House pushed out of the headlines were the increasingly aggressive actions of ICE agents themselves, who appear after the reversal of Obama-era discretion policies to be making symbolic arrests that sow fear among immigrant populations. Some of these arrests seem tailor-made to communicate the message that literally nowhere is now safe, undermining any sense of security that might be taken from sanctuary cities or sanctuary campuses. Perhaps more importantly, they undermine the participation of undocumented immigrants (and, frequently, their US Citizen children) in constitutionally-protected human rights like public education and public safety.

This widespread sense of fear and insecurity compounds two other issues of moment regarding immigration control: the enormous and growing backlog of federal immigration cases – in a context where immigrants will now be nearly universally subject to mandatory detention while asylum and other immigration cases are under review – and the now-public efforts of DHS to quickly and significantly expand detention capacity. An expansion of 20 thousand beds indicates that Secretary Kelly expects a nearly 50% increase in the current ‘average daily population’ (ADP) of 41,000 immigrants in detention on any given day. Such an expansion will not only represent a windfall for private/for-profit detention providers like CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group, but also (as I discussed in my last entry) the county sheriffs who operate local jails with spare beds that can be leased to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through intergovernmental service agreements (IGSAs) for what is often a lucrative per diem fee. This phenomenon will likely be especially pronounced in jurisdictions along the US-Mexico border, where the ending of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ‘catch-and-release’ policy will mean yet another influx of new detainees.

Alamance County is the first of our profile counties whose 287g agreement is no longer in effect, meaning that speculation on the future of the program under the Trump administration is just that. Given, however, that the Alamance County Sheriffs Office (ACSO) lost its 287g agreement in the midst of federal civil rights litigation alleging racial profiling of Latinos under the auspices of the program, signing a new 287g with the ACSO would be a clear repudiation of Obama-era enforcement policy. Such repudiations are arguably the Trump administration’s stock-in-trade across a whole spectrum of policy arenas, but the symbolism of entering an enforcement agreement with a jurisdiction previously under investigation for civil rights violations would be particularly telling.

The Alamance County Sheriff, Terry S. Johnson, appears in many of his public statements to be an ideologue in the Chuck Jenkins mold, if somewhat less outspoken. Perhaps the most significant differences between Alamance and our two prior jurisdictions – Franklin County, Maryland and Etowah County, Alabama – are demographic ones: Alamance, with a population of about 150 thousand, has had a large and growing Latino community since the 1990s, accounting in the last census for over 11% of the county’s population. To reiterate the key characteristics that qualify Alamance County 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.

Alamance County fulfills all four of these criteria, although I should again stress that its 287g agreement was rescinded by the Obama administration in 2012. If anything, this makes it a more important jurisdiction to profile from the perspective of advocacy, as 287g was ended there through the intervention of a tool – federal civil rights litigation – that is unlikely to be available to advocates under the current administration. What other kinds of litigation or approaches to grassroots organizing remain possible in the face of an emboldened immigration enforcement apparatus has yet to be tested, but a renewed 287g agreement in Alamance County would arguably represent an attack on civil rights and constitutional protections necessitating an early test of these strategies.


SHERIFF: Terry S. Johnson.

Johnson, a Republican, has been Alamance County Sheriff since 2002, and is currently under consideration for an appointment to the US Marshals Service under the Trump administration. Johnson, who was accused under the Department of Justice’s 2012 investigation of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) of referring to Spanish speakers as “taco eaters”, “received support [for his appointment] from every sheriff in the other 23 counties in the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina”. The Department of Justice brought suit against Johnson himself (rather than the ACSO as a whole) in 2012, after he categorized the DOJ’s findings in their initial investigation as “completely false”. In what was then a first for the DOJ’s civil rights actions against law enforcement agencies, the Department lost its case against Johnson in 2015, with US District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder finding that the government had not proved its case. While the DOJ originally appealed the verdict, it dropped that appeal in August of 2016.

ARRESTEES PROCESSED FOR DEPORTATION UNDER 287G: 280 in 2012 – a number significantly lower than the annual average of 355 that the ACSO achieved in the five preceding years of 287g enforcement, and likely reflecting the pressure that the ongoing DOJ investigation put the department under. Alamance County’s population of 150 thousand was 11% Hispanic or Latino according to the 2010 census, so if most of the arrestees processed for deportation were Latino county residents, around 2% of this community was directly affected on an annual basis. Given the likely indirect effects of this enforcement on children, partners, other family members, and the community at large, Alamance’s immigrant population may have long been familiar with the level of stress and uncertainty currently being experienced by immigrant communities nationwide.

ACTIVE IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITIES: The Intergovernmental Service Agreement through which ICE contracted with the Alamance County Jail to provide bed space for immigrant detainees appears to have been rescinded with the county’s 287g MOA in late 2012. At its 2010-11 peak, however, its average of 45 immigrant detainees would have made up 15% of the jail’s average daily population of 300. As recently as 2016, the ACSO shuttered a 76-bed detention center “annex” as a cost-saving measure; as discussed above, there is a clear incentive to monetize this excess bed space under the Trump administration’s expansion of detention capacity.

AVERAGE DAILY POPULATION (ADP) OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES: The Alamance County Jail held an average of 29 immigrant detainees on any given day throughout 2012. This represents a significant drop-off from the approximate ADP of 89 when the county first signed its 287g MOA in 2007. With a per diem of $61, the ACSO’s detention and related operations yielded $2.6 million from ICE that year – $1.87 million for detention, and $730 thousand for transportation. Alamance’s reduced 2012 ADP indicates a partnership going out of favor in the face of the DOJ’s ongoing civil rights investigation. Under these reduced circumstances, ADP income would likely have been cut by over 50% from documented 2007 levels ($71 * 29 detainees * 365 days) to $750 thousand for detention alone. Alamance’s 2007 IGSA gives us the ability to further estimate a proportional income from transportation of $275 thousand (730k/541 = $1,350 per detainee in 2007, or $1,565 * 176 total detainees in 2012). Thus even under DOJ investigation, Alamance was likely able to clear $1 million in funding for detention and transportation of deportable immigrants. Interestingly, the total funding that could be directly attributed to Alamance’s enforcement activity under 287g – about $1.64 million ($71 * 280 processed for deportation * 60 day average stay = $1.2m, + 280*$1,565=$440k) – is in fact 60% higher than the amount the recorded ADP suggests, illustrating the clear budgetary importance of maintaining the appearance of unbiased enforcement under the Obama-era DHS.

HISTORY OF 287G IN ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: As detailed above, Alamance County entered into its 287g enforcement agreement in 2007, as part of a wave of several North Carolina jurisdictions that joined that year. The ACSO’s original 287g memorandum of agreement was an agreement for jail enforcement only, adding a cautionary note to statements by other 287g-supporting sheriffs that jail enforcement agreements are intrinsically safer than street enforcement agreements or comparatively free of bias. The crux of the DOJ’s case against Johnson was research indicating that Latinos in were significantly more likely than other ethnicities to be stopped at ACSO roadblocks and for minor traffic violations, and more likely to be arrested rather than warned or cited when stopped – largely the same kinds of enforcement patterns cited in criticisms that characterized 287g task-force agreements as biased and reliant on profiling. The material difference between task-force and jail-based 287g agreements lies in the fact that interrogation about immigration status takes place within the confines of the county jail in the case of the latter, and in the public view for the former. This difference does not inoculate jail enforcement agreements from patterns of arrest intended to yield higher numbers of detentions and deportations.

CONTEXT AROUND CONTINUED IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT UNDER 287G IN ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: As discussed above, whether under Sheriff Johnson during his remaining time in office, or under his successor at a later date, the reentry of an emboldened Alamance County Sheriffs Office into the 287g fold would represent a clear symbolic break from Obama-era cautions around profiling-based immigration enforcement by local jurisdictions. To renew an agreement with Alamance would arguably represent an implicit statement – at most hinted at in Trump’s January 25th Executive Orders and the follow-up Kelly memo – that racial profiling and other forms of biased enforcement would be tacitly acceptable for local jurisdictions acting in support of the administration’s stated detention and deportation goals. Even in the context of an emboldened ICE and an increasingly indiscriminate immigrant detention and deportation regime, this tacit approval of unconstitutional policing practices would represent a new and extreme departure from established professional law enforcement standards – and a redirection of the federal civil rights apparatus (encompassing the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security alike) that has long been tasked with supporting them. Advocates and other close observers may well be expecting this departure, but would do well to keep an eye on Alamance County to see it confirmed.

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: Gwinett County, Georgia.

Jurisdictions to watch on local enforcement, part three: Frederick County, Maryland

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 prior entries on Orange County, California and Etowah County, Alabama for context.

Moving forward with the process of profiling jurisdictions that are current 287g agreement holders, it’s essential to acknowledge how quickly policy on interior and border immigration enforcement is moving. What I had originally envisioned as a set of “jurisdictions to watch” is fast becoming a set of templates for imagining the range of possible approaches to enforcement under the proliferation of new 287g agreements that seems likely to arise under the DHS’ stated intention to pursue them aggressively. DHS Secretary John Kelly’s leaked February 17th enforcement memo (released officially today) contains a great deal to unpack, primarily around the agency’s specific plans for implementing the broad strokes of Trump’s January 25th executive orders. While less sensational than the earlier leaked memo detailing plans to utilize National Guard troops to support enforcement activity in a handful of Western states, its contents have the potential to be every bit as momentous – if not more so, given the relative ease of putting them into effect.

Perhaps the most momentous statement in the memo (and the competition for that distinction is indeed sharp) comes early on, in the first sentence under Section A.:

The President has determined that the lawful detention of aliens arriving in the United States or otherwise described in section 235(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) pending a final determination of whether to order them removed, including determining eligibility for immigration relief, is the most efficient means by which to enforce the immigration laws at our borders.

Hiding within this seemingly innocuous statement is an explicit mandate for an unprecedented expansion of the nation’s detention infrastructure, an expansion likely to bring back online every prison bed (and then some) emptied in the painstaking nationwide efforts to reduce mass incarceration, and likely to have even more profound effects on nascent parallel efforts to reduce jail populations as well. This effect may well be most keenly felt at and near the U.S.-Mexico border, where the ending of Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding “catch and release” policy will result in the immediate introduction of an entirely new population into detention. It remains to be seen how much additional bed space will be required in short order to make these new policies a reality, but we can safely make a few assumptions: (1) that the vocally pro-enforcement ranks of front-line ICE agents (and their CBP colleagues) will begin enforcement of these policies with a zeal in marked contrast to the resistance with which they met the Obama-era discretion policies that the Kelly memo rescinds in their entirety; (2) that the budgetary requirements of this immediate expansion of detention space will require congressional attention (whether in the overall annual budgetary process or an emergency allocation specific to the administration’s immigration enforcement priorities); and (3) that the expansion will result in a bonanza for private/for-profit detention providers and administration-friendly local jail authorities alike.

Numerous commentators have observed the importance of local authorities like elected prosecutors to maintaining the momentum of criminal justice reform efforts in the Trump era, and the importance of elected county sheriffs to the future of immigration enforcement is an important parallel. Frederick County, Maryland may be a bellweather in this regard, based on the recent history of the jurisdiction and its outspoken longtime sheriff, Charles A. “Chuck” Jenkins. A random sampling of recent news reports on Jenkins, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and its approach to immigration enforcement could seemingly give the casual observer highly contrasting ideas about the purpose and effects of its 287g participation, depending on whether one turned up the news of the department’s recent outreach to Hispanic community groups, or the criticisms of some of those same community groups regarding its patterns of enforcement.

A more systematic examination of Sheriff Jenkins’ public statements on immigration, however, reveals him to be an immigration ideologue – in particular his April 19, 2016 public testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:

The effectiveness and value of local law enforcement partnering or at least simply cooperating with ICE is beyond measure to local public safety. Failure to cooperate and detain known criminal aliens for ICE has lead to American citizens being killed, wounded, injured, and sexually victimized in jurisdictions everywhere. […] It is my belief that if this Congress and the next President do not take action to close and secure the border with Mexico and simply enforce the federal immigration laws that exist, every county in America will become a border county. [emphasis added]

In sharp contrast to the more measured, evidence-based, public safety-oriented approach position outlined by Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, Alabama (as profiled in my last entry), Jenkins chooses to align his public stance with the absolutist language (“everywhere”, “every county”) deployed by President Trump throughout his campaign, constructing the narrative of an immigrant crime-wave wholly unsupported by evidence, but signaling a commitment to nativist ideology and the policy priorities that accompany it. This contrast adds important context to the key characteristics that qualify Frederick County 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.

Frederick County fulfills all four of these criteria, even while posting 287g processing numbers that appear moderate next to some of the larger, more immigrant-heavy jurisdictions under review. Frederick County is a potentially important jurisdiction for immigrant advocates because of the possibilities that it raises for working with other levers of local political power to keep in check the worst impulses of a sheriff who is apparently approaching 287g enforcement under the assumptions of nativist ideology. Frederick County, while leaning Republican, is not necessarily an ideological stronghold, and Sheriff Jenkins’ support there, while widespread, is not universal. Perhaps more importantly, Frederick County transitioned in 2014 to a County Charter Government, meaning an elected County Executive – currently Democrat Jan H. Gardner – holds approval power over his budget.


SHERIFF: Charles A. Jenkins.

Jenkins, a Republican and public supporter of the far right Tea Party movement, was first elected sheriff in 2006 – in part on the strength of campaign promises to ‘crack down’ on unauthorized immigrants – following the retirement of his predecessor James W. Hagy. Jenkins followed through on those promises with the signing of Frederick County’s first 287g agreement in 2008, and has since won reelection twice, in 2010 and 2014. An early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, Jenkins has been a frequent commenter since the election on the 287g program, local law enforcement detainer policies, and the Trump administration’s approach to ‘sanctuary cities’. Thus far, he has been careful to distinguish his department’s jail-enforcement agreement from the street-based, task-force agreements rescinded by the Obama administration in 2012, stressing that his officers do not engage in ‘show me your papers’ style enforcement; it will be interesting to know if his rhetoric on this distinction changes once the renewal of 287g task-force agreements is a matter of public DHS policy.

ARRESTEES PROCESSED FOR DEPORTATION UNDER 287G: 138 in 2012 – a number just into three figures and lower than many other 287g counties but proportionately significant for Frederick County’s population of 245 thousand (8.7% of whom Hispanic or Latino). Also of particular note is the statistic in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office 2012 Annual Report stating that, of the 1,136 detainers lodged in the program’s history up to that point, only 9.5% (108) were “encountered and arrested for felony offenses” – a statistic that throws into question Sheriff Jenkins’ repeated statements about not engaging in street arrests on the basis of immigration status.

ACTIVE IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITIES: The Frederick County Detention Center appears to be a purely administrative distinction applied to immigrants detained in the Frederick County Jail, among its general population bed capacity of 348. It’s ADP of 54 immigrants would thus account for some 16% of the jail’s general population, or 12% of its total population of 439.

AVERAGE DAILY POPULATION (ADP) OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES: The Frederick County Jail held an average of 54 immigrants on any given day throughout 2012. Per diem/per detainee compensation was $83 in 2007 – Assuming 3% annual increase and consistent ADP, a conservative estimate of 2016 gross receipts for detention in Frederick County would be ($112 * 54 detainees * 365 days) = $2.2 million. A significant proportion of this total – about $930 thousand ($112 * 138 processed for deportation * 60 day average stay), or around 42% –  could potentially be attributed to enforcement activity under 287g.

HISTORY OF 287G IN FREDERICK COUNTY, MARYLAND: As detailed above, Frederick County entered into its current 287g enforcement agreement in 2008, in fulfillment of Sheriff Jenkins’ campaign promise to do so. Assuming its growing population of immigrants from Mexico and Central America features a proportionately growing undocumented community, the political/ideological value of Jenkins’ vocal anti-immigrant stance could well be rooted in the anxieties of the county’s core voting demographic of longtime white residents in reaction to the changing character (rural to suburban, agricultural to residential, growing diversity) of the community. Jenkins’ 63% 2014 reelection victory, despite the controversies dogging his department in prior years, would seem to bear out this view – indeed, Jenkins himself attributed his victory to “old Frederick”.

CONTEXT AROUND CONTINUED IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT UNDER 287G IN FREDERICK COUNTY, MARYLAND: Frederick County bears a very different demographic profile from the overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Republican Etowah County, making it impossible for Sheriff Jenkins to pursue an aggressive approach to 287g enforcement in a vacuum. The vocal support the Sheriff’s immigration enforcement activities received from the prior County Commissioner have not been matched by the current elected County Executive, and if immigrant detention in the Frederick County Jail has significant budgetary implications for the Sheriff’s Office and the County overall, so do the liability concerns raised by enforcement activity rooted in profiling. Jenkins has not signaled a willingness to take on the perspective of a law enforcement professional to discuss the evidence-based merits of immigration enforcement as a public safety tool; thus the levers available for preventing or mitigating the harm likely to be caused by a ramped-up approach to 287g enforcement in Frederick County are distinct from the kinds of approaches that might bear fruit with a less ideological actor like Entrekin. These approaches are legal and political, and reliant on the reality that Jenkins is not a fully independent decision-maker in his role as Frederick County’s chief public safety officer. Consistent pressure on Frederick County’s budget, and the political fortunes of its elected decision-makers, may serve to rein in the darker impulses of an ideologue like Jenkins, who would otherwise appear likely to take the freest possible hand allowable under the Trump administration’s new approach to local immigration enforcement.

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: Alamance County, North Carolina.

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.

The Trump Administration and LGBT Rights

Our latest blog entry comes from Professor of Political Science Daniel Pinello. Professor Pinello is also author ofAmerica’s War on Same-Sex Couples and their Families: And How the Courts Rescued

By:  Daniel Pinello, 2/7/2017

Shortly after the November 2016 presidential election, the New York Times published the headline “Trump Win Seen as ‘Devastating Loss’ for Gay and Transgender People.” Offering reasons from the President-Elect’s business and personal histories to believe he himself lacked animosity toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered folks, the article nonetheless emphasized the overt hostility to LGBT rights evident in the Republican Party’s national platform (including the GOP’s advocacy of parents’ requiring their gay and transgender kids to go into “conversion therapy” to alter their sexual orientation or gender identity). Moreover, Donald Trump’s choice of Governor Mike Pence as Vice President especially distressed the queer community. The Indianan promoted public funding of conversion therapy, voted in Congress against bills prohibiting sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination and against the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and signed a state law allowing businesses the “religious freedom” not to serve gay and lesbian people.

Trump’s cabinet picks also sent tremors through LGBT groups. Declining to sing at the inauguration, for instance, Jennifer Holliday observed that the incoming federal regime was “a who’s who of homophobia.” Notable among the Trump nominees were Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. As an Alabama senator, Sessions supported amending the Federal Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage, voted against queer people’s open service in the American military, and objected to bills protecting against sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination in the workplace. When Tillerson became chief executive of Exxon Mobil in 2006, the oil company’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index was 0 percent. Exxon Mobil didn’t formally adopt anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity until 2015, a year after the Obama Administration mandated that businesses under contract with the federal government protect LGBT workers. By 2017, the oil company’s HRC score was 85 percent, conspicuously behind 514 other enterprises (like Apple, Chevron, and Walmart) with 100 percent ratings.

So what damage can the Trump Administration do to LGBT rights? A comprehensive answer first requires recognition that our American system of federalism provides states with most of the powers important to the daily lives of queer folk. Legal relationship recognition (whether between coupled partners or the minor children they’re raising), the ownership and distribution of property within families, protections against discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations – all these vital issues and more are primarily regulated at the state level. Thus, LGBT rights that exist pursuant to state law (such as to marry or adopt children or not to be fired from a job for being gay or transgender) cannot be directly affected by the President or Congress. So queer people living in progressive places like California, Massachusetts, and New York have little to fear immediately from Republicans in Washington, DC.

Rather, LGBT individuals living in the 28 jurisdictions (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming) without statewide legal-protections against sexual-orientation or gender-identity discrimination have better reason to feel insecure. For years, bills that would add sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the personal-attribute categories protected from discrimination under federal law have languished in Congress. And that lacuna in national legal safeguards for queer folk isn’t likely to be filled while the White House or either congressional branch is under GOP control. Accordingly, had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College in addition to the popular vote, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives would still have blocked progress in federal statutory protections. So Trump’s ascendancy isn’t decisive for the logjam in such prospective national legislation.

However, the new president can revoke his predecessor’s executive orders regarding policies of concern to the LGBT community or issue new decrees antagonistic to queer rights. For example, in 2010, Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services promulgated regulations requiring hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding to extend the visitation rights of patients to include their same-sex partners. A subsequent directive allowed married lesbian and gay couples to take family and medical leave. In all, more than 100 executive actions and regulatory changes by the Obama Administration improved the daily lives of queer Americans in sundry ways. Trump has the power to annul all such improvements, including the aforementioned discrimination ban on federal contractors.

Of course, whether he’ll do so is an open question. With regard to workplace protections in particular, American public opinion overwhelmingly supports such guarantees. While just 59 percent of national respondents told the Gallup Organization in 1982 that they thought homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities, the proportion who supported equality in the workplace had increased to 89 percent by as long ago as 2006. Hence, Trump, who came into office with the lowest public approval ratings of any president in the modern era, would threaten alienating even more Americans by gratuitously countermanding Obama Administration benchmarks of LGBT-rights progress.

Indeed, on January 30th, the White House announced that the President would not disturb Obama’s 2014 directive prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees or job applicants. But just two days later, on February 1st, a draft executive order circulated within the Trump Administration which would have provided broad protections for employers and service providers that, based on religious objections, deny jobs or services to LGBT workers or customers, similar to the bill Vice President Pence signed into law as governor of Indiana. By February 4th, the New York Times reported that Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were instrumental in scuttling the proposed “religious-liberty”-based rollback of queer rights. Hence, what the new president ostensibly gave on a Monday with one hand – preserving Obama’s executive order of three years ago – he almost took away with the other hand on Wednesday, but for the intervention of social liberals within the President’s immediate family.

If Trump himself has any genuinely reliable political instincts, he’s likely not to tamper extensively with rights policies affecting queer people. In a January 12thNew York Times profile, for instance, Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who was a member of the Trump transition team and who is openly gay, averred that “Trump is very good on gay rights. I don’t think he will reverse anything.”

Even diehard right-wing congressional Republicans have seen the political writing on the wall with regard to marriage equality, which the Pew Research Center found 55 percent of Americans supported in 2016. After the U.S. Supreme Court nationalized the right of same-sex couples to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges of June 2015, no organized effort emerged in the GOP-dominated 114th Congress to amend the Constitution for the purpose of toppling that judicial ruling. Although House Republicans threw abundant red meat to constituents by passing numerous symbolic repeals of the Affordable Care Act, GOP lawmakers didn’t even attempt one congressional vote to overturn Obergefell.

The venue in which President Trump may have the most consequential detrimental effects on the everyday lives of queer folk is in his judicial appointments, because federal courts will continue to address disputes affecting LGBT litigants. Last October, for example, the Supreme Court announced it would review whether a U.S. Department of Education regulation – requiring that “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity” – appropriately implemented Title IX, a 1972 law banning discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools receiving federal money. Also last October, the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, granted an unusual discretionary rehearing by that full judicial bench on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from or offers redress for discrimination based on sexual orientation, as held in a 2015 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (who died almost exactly a year ago), is likely to be as unsympathetic to queer litigants as his predecessor, who never voted in support of an LGBT-rights claim. Yet substituting Gorsuch for Scalia on the high tribunal would not immediately change its 5-to-4-vote equilibrium in favor of due process and equal protection for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The real threat to the Supreme Court’s balance toward fairness for all would come in the event either Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who turns 84 in March of this year) or Justice Anthony Kennedy (who will be 81 in July 2017) leaves office. A replacement of either of them by someone in the mold of Gorsuch, Scalia, or Justice Clarence Thomas could be disastrous to future LGBT-rights claims in the federal judicial arena.

With that real threat on the horizon, however, I don’t think there’s likely to be substantial retrenchment on constitutional rights already established by existing precedents such as Lawrence v. Texas (the 2003 invalidation of state consensual-sodomy statutes), United States v. Windsor (the 2013 upending of the federal Defense of Marriage Act), and Obergefell v. Hodges. The reasons for my optimism are several.

First, consider federal judicial voting trends on LGBT-rights claims. My 2003 book Gay Rights and American Law analyzed how federal and state appellate courts treated the civil rights claims of lesbians and gay men between 1981 and 2000 through an examination of 1,439 votes by 849 appellate judges in 398 decisions and opinions from 87 courts in all federal jurisdictions and 47 states. The volume’s concluding chapter made this observation:

Federal judges selected by Democratic presidents, compared with Republican appointees, positively determined an astonishing 40.5 percent of the probability “space” between complete success and utter failure of lesbian and gay rights claims in federal appellate courts. Among 45 federal cases in the study not influenced by controlling precedent, only 26.7 percent of 116 votes by judges nominated by Republican presidents were favorable to sexual minorities, while 60.2 percent of 83 votes by Democratic appointees supported homosexuals – a difference of 125 percent! Indeed, presidential party predicted case outcome far better than any other personal attribute [such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, or religious affiliation] of federal judges in the investigation.

My 2016 book America’s War on Same-Sex Couples and Their Families – And How the Courts Rescued Them – which counted the votes between 2013 and 2015 in all lower-federal-court decisions adjudicating disputes over the constitutionality of state same-sex-marriage bans – revealed a remarkable change from what the 2003 volume found:

[T]he (admittedly smaller) sample of federal judges in this survey had even more astonishing voting patterns based on the political party of the presidents who selected them. Among both the sixteen district-court and nine circuit-court judges who were Democratic appointees, 100 percent of their votes – every last one – went in favor of marriage equality, representing a 66-percent improvement over the 1981-2000 Democratic-nominee voting record. Whereas, with regard to the jurists chosen by Republican presidents, four of their six circuit votes, or 67 percent, went against the right of civil marriage for same-sex pairs, while just one of five trial-court decisions, or 20 percent, did so. In total, six of eleven Republican appointees, or 55 percent, embraced marriage equality. Hence, although the gap established by presidential party wasn’t as dramatic in 2013-2014 – at 82 percent – as it was in the last two decades of the twentieth century (125 percent), the disparity, nonetheless, was still substantial.

In other words, the rates at which both Democratic and Republican appointees to the federal bench backed the civil rights claims of LGBT litigants increased steadily, even dramatically, over time. The frequency of support from judges selected by Democratic presidents rose by two-thirds (from 60.2 percent to 100 percent) between 1981-2000 and 2013-2015, while the increment for Republican designees was more than double (from 26.7 percent to 54.5 percent). These enhanced levels of judicial protection mirrored the kinds of advances in American public opinion regarding queer rights referenced earlier. Accordingly, the voting trends of both Democratic and Republican nominees generally bode well for continued support of LGBT rights in federal court.

A second reason for optimism that landmark decisions like Lawrence, Windsor, and Obergefell won’t be jeopardized by Trump judicial appointments is the legal doctrine of stare decisis, which is central to traditional jurisprudential explanations of decision making in American courts. In brief, adjudged cases furnish examples or authority for analogous future fact patterns or similar questions of law. Adherence to established precedents provides security and certainty, mandating established legal principles under which rights may accrue, be recognized, and be followed. Stare decisis facilitates a predictable legal system.

From a macro perspective, the U.S. Supreme Court’s own commitment to honoring precedents is revealed by the statistic that less than .002 percent of all of the high court’s opinions have ever been formally overruled by the Court itself. At the micro level, consider the remarkable endurance of Roe v. Wade. I remember well, for instance, how, after the April 1992 oral argument in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, all well-informed court observers predicted that, as a result of President George H. W. Bush’s replacement of the liberal lions William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall with David Souter and Clarence Thomas, Roe v. Wade would finally be toast. But, just as the New York Times forecasted with 84-percent certainty last November 7th that Hillary Clinton would be the 45th president, the 1992 conventional wisdom was also wrong. Roe’s core holding prevailed as a precedent in Casey.

Equally important as these general observations about the crucial role of stare decisis in the American legal system, Chapter 5 of Gay Rights and American Law conducted an empirical test of the impact of precedent in the LGBT-rights context. My investigation first identified the votes of judges who were likely predisposed (because of their age, gender, party affiliation, race/ethnicity, religion, and a variety of other factors) not to support the legal claims of queer litigants. The study then compared the computed probabilities of how jurists would vote with their actual behavior deciding cases. I discovered that over one-third (36.4 percent) of the judges on courts of last resort (both state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court) who were otherwise inclined not to endorse LGBT rights nonetheless did so when a binding precedent in favor of such claims was involved in the adjudication. And the proportion of conservative-minded judges on intermediate appellate courts (such as the U.S. Courts of Appeals) who followed relevant liberal precedents was especially striking: 78.6 percent.

Hence, there are good reasons for cautious optimism that President Donald Trump’s impact on LGBT rights in the United States won’t be significantly detrimental.

Jurisdictions to watch on local enforcement, part one: Orange County, California

This entry is the second 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 for context.

Last Thursday I introduced my ongoing database project looking at local police cooperation with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement. I began this project before Trump signed a pair of immigration-related executive orders on January 25th; if anything, those orders made the work of tracking and assessing the impact of local police involvement in immigration enforcement more important than ever. In the long term, these orders also have the potential to make this work exponentially more difficult, as the orders appear to signal the administration’s intention to make immigration enforcement broadly the work of law enforcement agencies nationwide, without the memorandums of agreement, training, and oversight called for under section 287g of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

For the time being, however, jurisdictions with active 287g agreements, or previous agreements that were rescinded by the Obama administration under its reform of the program in 2012, are in the best position to ramp up their enforcement efforts quickly and to significant effect. In the relatively small universe of these jurisdictions (roughly 75 current and former 287g holders) a handful stand out as places where local and national advocates should remain vigilant. These jurisdictions are not limited to a particular region – they are in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, the deep South and the Northeast. They are even, as the current profile details, in liberal California. What they share instead of a region is a handful of key characteristics:

1) They 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.

The first of our “jurisdictions to watch” – Orange County, California – fulfills all four of these criteria. Below, in a template that I will attempt to maintain throughout the other jurisdictional profiles to follow, I will lay out the data that makes Orange County an important jurisdiction for immigrant advocates to invest time and resources in, provide a narrative outline of how Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ and her agency’s approach to immigration enforcement has developed since its initial 287g involvement, and provide context around avenues for potentially fruitful advocacy efforts in support of Orange County’s immigrant communities. As ever I welcome input, particularly from readers who know the jurisdiction intimately. Much of the data discussed comes from prior to the Obama administration’s reorganization of the 287g program in 2012, so some aspects of the jurisdiction’s involvement in immigration enforcement could have changed significantly in the ensuing years; I note in the narrative section where open source evidence indicates that this is the case.


SHERIFF-CORONER: Sandra Hutchens.

Hutchens, a Republican, was first appointed Sheriff by the Orange County Board of Supervisors in June 2008, following the resignation of her elected predecessor, Mike Carona, after his indictment on corruption charges. Hutchens has since won reelection twice, in non-partisan elections in 2010 and 2014. Since her second reelection, Hutchens herself has come under fire for a legal scandal involving the department’s use of confidential informants.

ARRESTEES PROCESSED FOR DEPORTATION UNDER 287G: 1,866 in 2012 – second only to San Bernardino County in California.

ACTIVE IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITIES: Theo Lacy Facility & James Musick Facility operated under IGSA with OC Sheriff’s Dept, making “a maximum of 838 beds available to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.” Santa Ana City Jail also under ICE contract until June 30, 2020 (when city council claims it will be allowed to expire).

AVERAGE DAILY POPULATION (ADP) OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES: These 3 facilities, plus a handful of others, held an average of 961 immigrants on any given day throughout 2012. Per diem/per detainee compensation was $82 in 2006 (for City of Santa Ana – OC Sheriff’s rate unknown). Assuming 3% annual increase and consistent ADP, a conservative estimate of 2016 gross receipts for detention in Orange County would be ($104 * 961 detainees * 365 days) = $36.5 million. Assuming consistent processing numbers, about $12 million ($104 * 1,866 processed for deportation * 60 day average stay), or one third, of these gross receipts arose directly from the Orange County Sheriff’s enforcement activity under 287g.

HISTORY OF 287G IN ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Orange County signed its original 287g agreement in 2006, under Hutchens’ predecessor Mike Carona. Hutchens has since renewed the agreement as recently as June 2016, making it the sole remaining active 287g agreement in all of California. Local media questioned the value of the program as early as 2007, with Sheriff Carona himself expressing mixed views on the usefulness of local police involvement in immigration enforcement. Local activists have carried out protest actions against the program as recently as 2016. In 2014, the County changed its policy on responding to ICE detainers due to liability concerns stemming from Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County, with Sheriff Hutchens informing ICE in a letter that the Department would “no longer hold inmates with ICE detainers beyond their scheduled release date, absent a judicial determination of probable cause”, though this letter also indicates that “ICE may take custody of the inmate so long as it occurs during OCSD’s release process and does not require additional detention of the inmate by OCSD.”

Taken together with the exact language contained in Orange County’s 287g agreement, detailing the authority that ICE has granted OCSD personnel to exercise over immigration enforcement, this equivocation raises questions about whether and to what degree the OCSD has backed off from its involvement in immigration enforcement in response to Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas. The OCSD’s 287g agreement authorizes designated Sheriff’s Deputies to perform all of the functions of immigration enforcement up to and including the issuing of immigration detainers, raising the possibility that OCSD could arrest an individual, screen them for deportability, issue a detainer, and transfer them to ICE custody in one of the OCSD’s own contracted detention centers without ever actually turning over physical custody of the individual to ICE; whether the ICE agent would need to contribute anything to the process other than a signature is unclear, despite reporting around the issue indicating otherwise.

CONTEXT AROUND CONTINUED IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT UNDER 287G IN ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: There are clear reasons for California counties to shy away from 287g agreements and other kinds of cooperation with ICE on immigration enforcement, starting with the liability concerns under Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas discussed above. Indeed, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Los Angeles counties recently rescinded long-running 287g agreements in response to Clackamas, along with the arguably even more stringent requirements of the 2014 California TRUST Act. The act prohibits “a law enforcement official […]from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody” with exceptions for individuals who have been convicted of a narrow range of (mostly violent) crimes.

Sheriff Hutchens has stated clearly and publicly that Orange County “do[es] not violate the California Trust Act,” so it is likely that the act has indeed already reduced significantly the number of individuals processed for deportation under the County’s 287g agreement in the three years since its passage; as further data becomes available, it might become clearer that despite maintaining its 287g memorandum of agreement, Orange County’s immigration policies (or at least their impact on immigrant communities) have been brought in line with the rest of the State’s jurisdictions. California’s legislative environment is arguably among the most pro-immigrant in the country, and continued legislative activism could very well limit the potential for like-minded local jurisdictions to follow the Trump administration’s lead on immigration enforcement. There are limits to the lengths the state government is willing to go in order to protect its immigrant communities, however, as Governor Jerry Brown’s recent veto of the Dignity not Detention Act appears to indicate. California’s advocates and activists would do well to keep a watchful eye on the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in the coming weeks and months.

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 first 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: Etowah County, Alabama.

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

Interview with Amy Adamczyk, Professor of Sociology

Ahead of the upcoming publication of her book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, Research Operations Assistant Laura Lutgen took the opportunity to interview Professor Amy Adamczyk

Laura Lutgen (LL): I was told by another doctoral student that you worked in fashion prior to academia. Is that true? What brought you into sociology? What brought you to John Jay?

Amy Adamczyk (AA): Yes, it is true. My first degree is an ASS in Fashion Design. As a kid, I dreamed of moving to the city and becoming a designer.  My mom taught me how to sew and I eventually found myself studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.  After obtaining my associate’s degree I worked for a few years in the fashion industry, but it was nothing like what I expected (i.e., Devil Wears Prada).  I therefore decided to go back to school and since I was living in NYC I selected one of the local colleges –Hunter College.  While I was there I fell in love with sociology and my professors encouraged me to consider graduate school.  From there I got a MA from the University of Chicago.  I then enrolled in the Graduate Center’s (GC) Ph.D. Program in Sociology.  However, I was interested in the sociology of religion and there were few professors doing that work at the time. After obtaining an en-route MA degree from the GC I transferred to Pennsylvania State University where I worked closely with Roger Finke, who is a sociologist of religion. After graduating with my doctorate my first job was at Wayne State University in Detroit.  When I was at the Graduate Center I had grown fond of NYC.  While I was at Wayne State I decided to see if I could get a position in NYC.  That year John Jay College was hiring a lot of assistant professors and in 2007 I came here.

LL: It seems like you’ve done a vast amount of research on religion, sexuality, and terrorism/extremism (not always intertwined, of course). Where did it all begin? How has your earlier work influenced your current work and your next chapter (no pun intended)?

AA: My first subarea of interest was the sociology of religion. I grew up in rural Wisconsin on a dairy farm (my parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement).  My parents were very religious, but politically liberal.  There was a lot of life and death on the farm and as a kid I thought a lot about the cycle of life.  This was supplemented with ideas from our conservative Protestant faith. I was always interested in how religion shapes people’s attitudes and behaviors, so it is fitting that this became one of my major areas of study.

As I have studied religion I have become increasingly interested in how it shapes people’s deviant attitudes and behaviors. Religion often limits minor deviant acts and illegal behaviors and similarly shapes people’s views on issues like homosexuality, abortion, minor substance use, and premarital sex. I typically study attitudes and behaviors that are on the edge of being illegal.  Terrorism too can be similar to these other issues. In some places behaviors that might otherwise be described as “terrorism”, may be seen as political protest or freedom fighting.  It can depend on the context. I am curious about how the larger social, economic, national, and historical context shapes the way these behaviors (e.g., political protest, same-sex sexual relations, abortion, etc.,) get viewed and the characteristics influencing the likelihood that people will engage in them.

LL: Tell us about your book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality. What sparked your motivation for such a project, both in terms of the subject matter and methodology but also in terms of taking on such a large endeavor? Have you always seen yourself as wanting to write a book? What are you most exited about and what are some of the key take-aways?

AA: Public opinion about homosexuality varies substantially around the world. While residents in some nations have embraced gay rights as human rights, people in many other countries find homosexuality unacceptable. In the book I use survey data from almost ninety societies, case studies of various countries, content analysis of newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews to examine how individual and country characteristics influence acceptance of homosexuality.  The survey data show that cross-national differences in opinion can be explained by three primary factors -the strength of democratic institutions, the level of economic development, and the religious context of the places where people live.  The world’s poorest, least democratic and most religious countries are more likely to have laws that punish same-sex sexual behaviors and have a high proportion of residents who disapprove of homosexuality.  While the United States has high levels of economic development and a strong democracy, it has been slower to change its laws and attitudes about homosexuality than some of its European counterparts, in part, because the US is a more religious country.

While some books have been published on the factors shaping attitudes about homosexuality in the US, I do not know of any book-length study that examines the factors shaping attitudes across nations.  I published a journal article on this issue several years ago in Social Science Research (Adamczyk and Pitt 2009) and it remains one of the most cited articles in the journal and is the most cited article I have written.  That helped give me the confidence to move forward.  I also got some grants and fellowships that made doing the research feasible, especially the fieldwork in Taiwan and content analysis of 800 newspaper articles, where the help of doctoral student coders was needed.

Disciplines vary in the extent to which researchers write books versus academic articles.  The humanities publish the most books and the natural sciences mostly focus on journal articles. The social sciences are in the middle. Until now almost all of my research has been published in peer-reviewed journal articles (35) and reports (10). I wanted to write a book because I thought I could offer hundreds of pages of insight on this topic and I wanted to reach people outside of academia.  I also got a lot of encouragement from my colleagues, editor, and friends.

LL: You’ve traveled quite extensively – Europe, Asia, Africa. Tell us about these experiences. What was your most rewarding experience, both professionally and personally?

AA: I have been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities for international travel.  Over the last five years I have spent time in Europe (e.g., Italy, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands), Africa (Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, etc.), and Asia (e.g., Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, etc.).  A lot of this travel is related to my research.  For example, one of the chapters in my book focuses on Taiwan.  I spent a couple of months there doing research for the book which entailed talking with journalists, religious leaders, academics, activists, and political leaders about how they thought the Taiwanese viewed homosexuality. I really learned a lot and made several friends. The research assistant (Angel Liao) that I hired to help me is now working on her doctorate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

In addition to some trips where I really got to know residents, I have had some fun adventures. About five years ago I participated in a workshop in Uganda where I also had a chance to go white water rafting on the Nile which at the time had some 5-grade rapids.  I still have dreams/nightmares about that experience.

LL: As a doctoral student, what advice as a senior professor would you give someone at my level? Any tips/tricks you’ve come across? What are some things we can do now that will benefit us throughout our academic career and, especially, in preparing and taking on the academic job market?

AA: My areas of research are really intriguing to me and I am genuinely curious about the research questions I investigate. I would urge students to find something about which they are passionate since there are aspects of this job that are really boring.  Being genuinely curious will help you get through the less exciting parts.

I think it is important to also remember that everyone gets rejected and that a big part of this job is getting grants and papers rejected.  Nevertheless, you have to keep submitting, as every now and then something hits, and over time you get better at both handling the rejection and developing successful projects. Having good collaborators also helps.

Finally, the job market for professors is tight.  If doctoral students want to study something that is a little esoteric (e.g., sociology of religion) it would be a good idea to pair that interest with a more popular area of study like criminology. In the end you want to be able to enjoy what you do and get paid for it, so it is a good to be at least somewhat practical.

The Coming Storm: Meeting the Challenge of a New Deportation Regime

Our latest blog entry comes from Dan Stageman, Director of Research Operations for the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College. 

By:  Dan Stageman, 11/15/16

On the morning of Wednesday November 9th, I shook off the cobwebs of a thoroughly sleepless night to drive my partner and children to John Jay College and successfully defend my dissertation with them looking on. I had even prepared for the proud moment by reprinting my business cards in anticipation of my success; what I hadn’t prepared for was to present the accumulated insights of seven years’ work on the deportation of American immigrants the day after the most shocking presidential election result of my lifetime.

I had no illusion that the study of deportation could ever be a dry academic exercise; nothing that so profoundly affects the lives of so many Americans ever could be. I was, however, expecting to approach my work as scholarship first and foremost: a well-earned break until the New Year, followed by redoubled efforts to submit parts of my dissertation for publication in academic journals, and revise others into a book with a reputable university press.

These plans are now on hold. The implications of my work for immigrant communities across the US insist upon a different approach, and a more immediate kind of discussion. Most importantly, I believe that many of the predictions and expectations I have read since the election have the wrong idea about the incoming administration’s approach to fulfilling the President-Elect’s recent pronouncements on deportation. Specifically, in widely reported comments during his interview for the November 13 edition of 60 Minutes, the President-Elect had the following to say about his administration’s immediate deportation plans:

What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.

Leaving aside the reality that there aren’t two million undocumented immigrants with criminal records for Trump to deport, National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani notes in an interview with USA Today that the President-Elect “would need congressional approval to hire more […] Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents” – an expansion of federal bureaucracy that might be a hard sell to a congress that has vowed to slash government spending – but “doesn’t need any new money to change the focus of the immigration agents who are already in place.”

While it is heartening to see immigration advocates like Mr. Noorani treating the President-Elect’s campaign rhetoric about a national ‘deportation force’ with rational circumspection, his continued focus on ICE enforcement activity misses an important consideration: the necessary tools are already in place to effect a massive ramp up of deportations by relying on local law enforcement agencies to take the lead on apprehension – and potentially contribute to the resulting need for increased detention capacity as well. Not only are these tools already in place, but so is a pre-existing incentive structure to encourage local law enforcement agencies to put them to use.

My research focuses on these pre-existing federal-local immigration enforcement partnerships, and the incentive structures that give local governments, and the people who run them, self-interested justifications to apprehend and detain undocumented immigrants in their communities and set them on the road to deportation. I found that, of the approximately 1.5 million deportations carried out during the Obama administration’s first term (2009-12), at least a third (500 thousand) began with a local law enforcement agency apprehension. Two programs – the 287g program,and Secure Communities – made this level of local law enforcement participation possible.

What are the incentives for local governments to participate in these programs? There are many.  County Sheriffs enter into these agreements for political gain, pursuing nativist votes by tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment. New Jersey’s current Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno launched her political career by running for Monmouth County Sheriff – a campaign that she won on a promise (later fulfilled) to enter the county into a 287g agreement if elected. Others, like former Hall County (Georgia) Sheriff Steve Cronic, combined political motivations with financial ones: a contract with the Corrections Corporation of America provided the ostensible economic benefits of siting the North Georgia Detention Center within the heart of the county, while a 287g agreement provided the means to fill its beds with immigrant detainees.

These federal-local partnership enforcement programs are not going away, and the incentives for local governments to enter into them will only become stronger under the Trump administration.Calls like that of National Day Laborer Organizing Network Executive Director Pablo Alvarado for President Obama to use his remaining time in office to “sever the link between police and ICE that his administration created” are unlikely to have the intended effect of “innoculat[ing] against a domestic human rights crisis[.]” While it is true that the Obama administration relied heavily on these programs to ramp up US deportations to their highest ever levels during his first term in office, the law that makes them possible dates to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) passed by Congress in 1996.

I believe that it is this law and its possible interpretations that will allow the incoming administration a wide latitude to involve local law enforcement in the promised mass deportation effort. Section 287(g) begins with the following language:

[ICE] may enter into a written agreement with a State, or any political subdivision of a State, pursuant to which an officer or employee of the State or subdivision, who is determined by [ICE] to be qualified to perform a function of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States (including the transportation of such aliens across State lines to detention centers), may carry out such function at the expense of the State or political subdivision and to the extent consistent with State and local law.

The parameters of such agreements, or the training that local law enforcement officers require under them, are left ambiguous. Notwithstanding the established practice of ICE under the Obama administration (or the GW Bush administration prior to that), it is certainly conceivable that a Trump administration could severely reduce the rigor of established training requirements, along with the strictures laid out in ICE’s current Memorandum of Agreement template, leaving a loose and undemanding structure to induce local law enforcement agencies to join. The new administration could further incentivize these agreements through the use of Intergovernmental Service Agreements(IGSAs) that reimburse local jails and related facilities for detaining immigrants – a situation that looks likely to lead to an explosion of new management contracts for the Correctional Corporation of America and its competitors in the private/for-profit prison industry.

I’ve found in my research that it’s possible to make empirical predictions about the places where the incentive for local governments to enter into immigration enforcement agreements is highest – and consequently, where the most vulnerable immigrant communities are located. The first places where we should expect to see local enforcement ramping up in support of the Trump administration’s deportation efforts are small-towns and rural areas where undocumented immigrants are visible, visibly working, and just beginning to put down roots. These are places where nativism commonly runs strong, fueled not only by anxieties about immigrant domination of local labor markets, but also by ill-founded concerns about non-laboring immigrant dependents ‘stealing’ taxpayer supported government services.

For the policy and advocacy organizations tasked with supporting immigrant communities, the challenges presented by local enforcement are manifold. Effective legal challenges will be hampered at many levels and in many areas by a judicial system that appears likely to tilt in favor of the incoming administration. Shaming or otherwise shedding an unfavorable light on participating jurisdictions will be ineffective where nativist voters represent an electoral majority. Under the circumstances, the most promising strategies are likely to be those that focus on the direct and practical organization of immigrant communities themselves. Education efforts that help immigrants to know their rights when faced with imminent enforcement actions are one example. Efforts that help immigrant communities avoid common patterns of local enforcement are another, recognizing that roadblocks and other forms of traffic enforcement are a common approach.

Finally, a focus on local enforcement allows advocates and allies to organize counter-efforts in jurisdictions where governments and law enforcement agencies value close working relationships with immigrant communities in their efforts to prevent and respond to crime. The movement by immigrant supporting jurisdictions to refuse ICE detainer requests based on the 4th Amendment interpretation laid out in Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County has only grown since that case was determined in 2014. While we should realistically expect this movement to come under sustained legal assault by the new administration, recent statements like that of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that his department is “not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts” offer some reassurance that such efforts are antithetical to contemporary professionalism in police leadership.

Advocates should not, however, simply take law enforcement executives’ word for it. By most accounts, Charlie Beck is a dedicated law enforcement officer and a decent human being (see e.g. Joe Domanick’s recent history of LAPD reform Blue); nevertheless, his word remains that of a public figure on an issue of momentarily intense media scrutiny. As such, no individual or organization with a vested interest should operate under the assumption that it represents immutable LAPD policy. Advocacy organizations need to hold Beck and other law enforcement leaders to these non-cooperation pledges with every tool at their disposal. Verifying that they represent official departmental policy and are incorporated into department manuals and standard operating procedures is a good start, and, along with mandated formal training, the first step toward ensuring they are incorporated into departmental culture in meaningful, lasting ways.

For myself, I will continue writing and presenting on the Trump administration’s likely approach to fulfilling candidate Trump’s deportation campaign promises, and supporting efforts to organize immigrant communities to face the coming storm. I was lucky enough to arise last Wednesday morning with a clear mission laid out before me, a signal to cut through the noise of a thousand progressive policy goals being forcibly dismantled in the bleak years to come. Now is the time to decide what we believe in and focus our time and energy on protecting it. I believe that the United States must remain a nation of immigrants.

Trump and Homosexuality: Differences in Public Opinion

Ahead of the February 2017 release of her book, “Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe,” our latest blog entry comes from Amy Adamczyk, Professor of Sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of CUNY. This entry was originally posted on the University of California Press Blog.

By:  Amy Adamczyk, 11/11/16

Like many academics, I was surprised at how well Donald Trump did early in the presidential election, securing the Republican nomination and at times rivaling Hillary Clinton in the polls. Part of the reason I was so surprised is because almost everyone I know and spend time with is a staunch democrat, socialist, or even communist. For many academics most of our friends are very liberal left-leaning highly educated people. For me it is even more extreme because I am childless and live in Manhattan. So the thought of millions of Trump enthusiasts has been hard to fathom.

adamczyk-crossnationalThat a social scientist like myself, trained to avoid generalizing from personal experience, is nonetheless taken aback by the Trump phenomenon is a testament to the power of context. Simply put, those with whom we interact have a powerful role in shaping our views. And our friendship groups tend not to be very diverse, so it’s easy to find ourselves in an echo chamber soundproofed from the voices of the outside world. This is especially true for people at opposite ends of the educational spectrum, whose friendship networks tend to be particularly homogeneous.

The media coverage of the presidential election provides repeated reminders of the deep cultural divides within our country. When we regularly see our fellow citizens cheering on a candidate who we find outrageous or worse, it is easy to forget all the subjects on which most of us agree, and how this agreement is fostered by the cultural and structural context we share as residents of the United States. For example, the issue of gay rights, a wedge issue in past elections, has faded from view in the current election. Opposition to same-sex marriage has narrowed over the last two decades and this year Republicans nominated someone who appears only now to oppose same-sex marriage out of political expediency. Meanwhile, there are nations where a person can be put to death for being gay. As great as the cultural differences among our fellow citizens, the differences between nations are vaster still, especially on key issues like gay rights.

In my forthcoming book, Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes across the Globe, I show just how vast the differences are across nations on this important issue. What accounts for such dramatic differences across nations? The book shows that much of the variation in attitudes about homosexuality can be traced back to differences in the degree of economic development, democratic governance and religious fervor. The book also shows how these factors interact in complex ways with a nation’s unique history and geographic location to produce divergent cultural and structural climates.

The interesting thing about contextual forces, whether they are operating within friendship groups, regions, or nations, is that we often do not know they are there. It takes something like a divisive national election or stories about the denial of civil rights to remind us of the different worlds in which we live.

Dominance Status Affects the Transmission of Fear

Ahead of his scheduled November 15 book talk on “Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals,” our latest blog entry comes from Nathan Lents, Associate Professor in John Jay’s Department of Sciences. This entry was originally posted on his “The Human Evolution Blog.” 

By:  Nathan Lents, 10/19/16

Fear is a powerful motivator. It’s also a very interesting social behavior. Fear is a psychological tool that animal species use as a mechanism for avoidance.

Fear is one of our most basic emotions and is processed by a part of the brain called the amygdala. Animals, including humans, can have genetic predispositions toward fearing certain things. This has great adaptive value. For example, as I’ve written about previously, many prey animals are naturally fearful of their predators. Mice don’t have to learn to avoid snakes and cats; they are born fearing them. Many nocturnal animals have photophobia, which helps them stay out of moonlight and avoid being spotted. Inborn fears reveal past natural selection because animals that are naturally afraid of their main predators will be more likely to survive and pass on that genetically encoded fear.

Fear can also be learned. During times of danger, alarm, or even stress, our amygdala activates the fear response. This serves to train us to fear that danger when we see it again and thus avoid it. If you were mauled by a dog when you were young, you have a good chance of being fearful of dogs the rest of your life. Repeated exposure to dogs may not even help because, often, exposure simply boots up the fear program again, which could actually reinforce, rather than diminish, the fear.

One cool aspect of fear is that it can be learned vicariously by humans and other animals. That is to say, social animals can learn to fear some dangers simply by observing others experience the danger and without having to experience it first-hand. This is powerfully adaptive for the obvious reason that it reduces exposure to danger even without a priming event.

While vicarious learning of fear in nonhuman animals may have sounded far-fetched in previous decades, researchers on animal emotion and cognition have found that social mammals experience empathy and animal contagion. Animals are keenly aware of the emotional state of their fellow conspecifics, so it’s only natural that they would notice, and learn from, another animal in fear, pain, or danger.

The first rigorous scientific study of vicarious fear training in animals was published in 1984 by Susan Mineka and colleagues. In that groundbreaking study, Professor Mineka showed that juvenile rhesus monkeys learn to fear snakes not necessarily through their own dangerous exposure but by observing their parents behaving fearfully around them. In other words, the fear of snakes in monkeys can be a function of social learning. Since that now-classic study, vicarious fear training has been observed in a variety of social animals and has been used to probe genetic fear dispositions, empathy, neurodiversity, and many other social and evolutionary phenomena.

Researchers Carolyn Jones and Marie Monfils of the University of Texas recently discovered that vicarious fear learning in rats depends on dominance relationships.

To do this study, Jones employed a clever spin on a common experimental design. Before doing any fear training, she placed three rats in a cage and let them live and play together from the time of weaning until the experiment was done, 12-14 weeks later. This way, she could observe and document the social relationships that formed. As she told me, “Rats are very commonly used in behavioral studies, [but] usually we just order however many rats are necessary for the experiment, put them in a cage together, run the experiment after an allotted ‘acclimation’ period, and that’s it.” By letting the rats bond first, she could ask if dominance status mattered in the second-hand learning of fear.

Rats are very playful and social animals. They also exhibit dominance-based social ranking in their relationships. After watching each rat triad carefully for three weeks, Jones noted that one rat established himself as the dominant rat (D), another as submissive-1 (S1), and the third as the submissive-2 (S2). S1 is defined as the preferred target of the D rat, while S2 is the least involved in play behaviors, tending to avoid the D rat’s play invitations.

(All rats in this study were male to avoid the formation of reproduction-based relationships. Female rats were used in a different study on fear transmission by this group. The assignment of rats to these different social ranks was carried out according to established method involving video recordings of play behaviors and statistical analysis of dominant behaviors. For more detail, see the methods section of the paper.)

Once the social rankings were established, Jones selected one member of the triad to be the subject of fear conditioning involving the emission of a 20-second tone followed by a mild electric shock to the feet. This rat would quickly learn to fear the tone and so this rat is called the fear-conditioned (FC) rat.

The next day, Jones placed the FC rat together with one of the other rats, and then played the tone, this time without a shock. The FC rat became fearful upon hearing the tone and then second rat did (or did not) pick up this fear from the first one, without any shocks being delivered. This rat was then called fear-conditioned-by-proxy (FCbP).

On the third day, all three rats were put together again, the third rat not having been trained to fear the tone either with shocks or by-proxy, so was called “No FC.” Tones were played again and the fear responses were measured. In these experiments, fear was measured as “freezing behavior.” The experiments were run in all possible combinations of dominant and submissive rats playing the role of the FC, FCbP, and No FC. With six replicates for each type of triad and 96 rats in total, robust statistical analyses were possible.

The results were both surprising and clear. The S1 rats (the submissive rats that were the preferred target of the dominant rats) were able to become fear-conditioned by-proxy regardless of whether they took their training from the D rat or the S2 rat. The S2 rats, however, would only learn fear from the D rats, not the S1 rats. Further still, the D rats did not become fear-conditioned by-proxy from either the S1 or S2 rats. In other words, dominant rats would never learn fear from submissive rats; the play-avoidant submissive rats would only learn from the dominant rats; and the playful submissive rats would learn from both superiors and other submissives.

Jones then went on to study the vocalizations that took place during the fear-condition by-proxy attempts, as a means to possibly explain why fear-learning takes place in some combinations and not in others. She focused on low-frequency calls that rats sometimes make that correspond to negative emotions, including fear. Aside from big mouse-to-mouse differences with most mice not vocalizing at all, Jones found that the low-frequency vocalizations, when they did occur, correlated well with the learning of fear by-proxy. this is, some of the rats that learned to fear the warning tones may have done so because the FC rats were giving a warning to them.

The use of warning calls to signal the danger may provide the explanation for the fear-condition because it makes sense that rats would call out danger to warn those they have social alliances with while being less likely to warn animals they are indifferent to. As Jones told me, “the fear-conditioned demonstrators were more likely to emit alarm vocalizations if they had, for lack of a better word, a ‘friendly’ relationship with the observer rat.” Rats, it seems, look out for their friends.

The study goes on the explore serum corticosterone levels, expression of c-FOS in two different areas of the rats’ brains, and other mechanistic items of interest to those who specialize in the neuroscience of fear. The main take-away from this study is that rats, like humans, experience their world through the lens of social contact. Those of high social rank are more influential on others, while being less likely to be influenced by others. Those of lower social rank, on the other hand, have their own advantage: by paying attention to both superiors and other subordinates, they are able to learn from all of members of the group equally.

FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But when it comes to learning from others, evolution has seen things differently.

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