By Katie Spero
One of the leading campaign promises of President Donald J. Trump was to increase deportation of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan has been busy implementing this promise, with nearly 80,000 undocumented immigrants detained in the first seven months of President Trump’s administration.
During a recent visit to Miami, Florida, Homan indicated that these numbers are only the start, stating that we should expect to “see an increase” in the number of detained individuals. “That’s pretty close to perfect execution of the policies,” Homan said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Traditionally, ICE enforcement efforts have been assisted in the detention of criminal undocumented immigrant by city, county, and state law enforcement. According to Jennie Pasquarella of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, approximately 70 percent of all immigration enforcement in the U.S. is the result of cooperation with local law enforcement.
This can be in the form of active cooperation – Orange County, California, for example, allows local deputies to be trained as ICE compliance officers through an agreement known as the 287(g) program, which establishes procedures for ICE officers to collaborate with state and local police to enforce immigration laws.
Implicit cooperation is also common – the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department makes release dates publicly available on its website, which can be utilized by ICE agents looking to identify and detain certain individuals.
This cooperation between federal and local law enforcement regarding immigration enforcement is being challenged in California. In December 2016, California Senator Kevin De León introduced Senate Bill 54, which would “prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”
SB 54 will also prohibit ICE agents (with certain exceptions) from interviewing inmates or picking inmates up at jails without a warrant.
While the bill saw some initial momentum and quick passage in the California State Senate, the California State Sheriffs’ Association is pushing for defeat of the bill in the California State Assembly.
On a statewide conference call, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, president of the sheriff’s association, noted that he does not want to prevent local law enforcement from notifying ICE agents when dangerous criminals are released from custody.
The group is also urging Governor Jerry Brown to decline to sign the bill, if passed in its current form. In a recent interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Governor Brown indicated that he also wanted changes seen to SB 54, to ensure public safety concerns are adequately accommodated.
“The goal here is to block and not to collaborate with abuse of federal power,” Governor Brown said. “It is a balancing act. It does require some sensitivity. And that’s why I take a more nuanced and careful approach to dealing with what is a difficult problem. Because you do have people who are not here legally, they’ve committed crimes. They have no business in the United States in the manner in which they’ve come and conducted themselves subsequently.”
SB 54 does have an exception allowing local law enforcement to notify ICE about certain undocumented inmates – those who have been previously deported for a violent felony, and those who are serving time and have a prior serious or violent felony conviction – but the sheriffs’ association doesn’t feel the exception is broad or strong enough to alleviate public safety concerns.
The sheriffs’ association also notes that if ICE agents cannot locate criminal undocumented aliens in local jails, they will be forced into locations where non-criminal undocumented immigrants could inadvertently be detained as well.
This concern seems to be well placed – David Marin, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office Director for Los Angeles, has noted that policies which limit ICE apprehensions in local jails have forced ICE agents to embark on enforcement actions that move into neighborhoods, court houses and work places.
At the same time as the battle wages over SB 54, California and San Francisco officials announced on August 14 that they will be suing the Trump administration over federal threats to withhold funding from cities with policies that limit local cooperation with ICE agents.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called President’s Trump’s push to end the nearly $28 million in federal law enforcement grants issued to California this year as “bullying.” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera echoed these comments, stating that it was a “back-door attempt to coerce states and local governments to carry out federal immigration enforcement.”
It is common for immigration enforcement priorities and practices to change from administration to administration, and cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE agents has been an issue for several years. Despite the changes in our current political climate, the debate of the scope and nature of cooperation between California and federal officials regarding immigration appears to be a constant.
Katie Spero is a San Diego immigration attorney.