Trump wants local police to step up and enforce federal immigration laws

Posted at 6:29 PM, Apr 25, 2017

A federal judge in California on Tuesday temporarily halted the Trump administration’s efforts to block funding to “sanctuary cities” that protect undocumented immigrants.

Judge William H. Orrick ruled in favor of Santa Clara County, the City of San Francisco and other jurisdictions that argued the threat to withhold funding from cities that refuse to comply with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws was unconstitutional.

President Trump has promised to deport up to 3 million undocumented immigrants and he wants to empower local police to help. In January the president signed an Executive Order barring federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities and beefing up an existing program known as 287(g).

The 287(g) program allows state and local law enforcement to enter into agreements with the federal government and be deputized to enforce federal immigration laws.

Since its inception in 1996, there have been as many as 70 agreements between localities and the federal government. Today there are approximately 37 agreements in place in 16 states.

Originally there were two models under the 287(g) program. The “task force model” let local police enforce federal immigration laws in the field while on patrol. A Department of Homeland Security Inspector General investigation in 2010 found that “Claims of civil rights violations have surfaced in connection with several [law enforcement agencies] participating in the program,” so the Obama administration discontinued the task force model in 2012.

The other model is known as the “jail model.” Under that model local law officers may interrogate alleged noncitizens who have been arrested on state or local charges and may place immigration detainers on inmates thought to be subject to removal.

During President Obama’s eight years in the White House, ICE’s priority was to deport criminals. From fiscal years 2009 to 2016 — Obama deported a total of 2,749,706 people, according to ICE records. During Obama's first year in office, 35 percent of those deported had been convicted of a crime but that number increased to 50 percent in 2010 and then stayed between 55 percent and 59 percent until Obama left office in January 2017.

All that changed this winter with the Executive Order and a series of memos outlining new guidelines and priorities for deportations and calling for an expansion of the 287(g) program.

President Trump’s January executive order specifies that, “It is the policy of the executive branch to empower State and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer in the interior of the United States to the maximum extent permitted by law.” The memos, signed in February by the Department of Homeland Security, state that anyone in the U.S. illegally is now subject to deportation.

Frederick County, Md., just outside of Washington D.C., has been part of the 287(g) program since 2008.  Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, the chief law enforcement officer in Frederick County, says ICE doesn’t have enough men, women and resources to do what they need to do, and so he’s eager to help enforce the law.

“For me this is really important,” Jenkins says. “And a large part of it, to me it’s about protecting this community…” Jenkins says so far, he isn’t doing anything different under the Trump administration, “We’re removing the criminal elements off of the streets and we’re not allowing them to be released back onto the streets.”

Immigration advocates who work with clients in Frederick County tell a different story. Naima Said has worked as an immigration lawyer in the area for years.

“I’m drowning in clients. I’m turning away clients.” Said says people are calling her because they are much more afraid now. “There’s this sense of living in fear” and she said people are “calling, asking if I will do a power of attorney to give their children away for someone who will care for them should they be taken in the middle of the night or on their way to work.”

According to a recent Washington Post article, President Trump is making good on his promise. Immigration arrests rose nearly 33 percent in the first three months of his presidency. ICE has arrested 21,362 immigrants since Trump took office compared to just over 16,000 during the same period in 2016. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated ICE’s priority during President Obama’s eight years in the White House. It should have said the priority was to deport criminals.