Dozens of local police departments are reportedly checking the immigration status of people they arrest as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, according to a Reuters investigation through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Since Trump’s inauguration in January, 29 police departments have joined a federal program that grants local law enforcement authorities the authority to question and to detain suspected undocumented immigrants and turn them over to federal authorities for potential deportation proceedings. An additional 38 jurisdictions told Reuters that they had already applied or were “potentially interested” in joining the program, known as 287(g). The number of interested jurisdictions was not previously reported, according to the publication.
According to Reuters’ analysis, the police departments that joined or expressed interest in joining oversee small populations, “typically fewer than 100,000 residents, with small immigrant populations.” Police departments in places like New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA — which have large populations and large foreign-born populations — have thus far limited federal cooperation and promised to defy Trump’s executive orders to increase the number of detentions and deportations of immigrant populations.
The town of Bensalem, Pennsylvania is looking to join the 287(g) program, Reuters reported, and has welcomed the deportation of any undocumented immigrant who commits any kind of crime. If the town is approved for the program, local personnel will be trained at a federal facility. The town stands to make money if it signs a separate contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to house immigrant detainees, a payment that comes per detainee, per day. As of April 2017, about one-third of the 98 jurisdictions that have existing agreements or have expressed interest in them house people on behalf of ICE, Reuters reported.
Named for Section 287(g) of the immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the federal 287(g) program deputizes state and local police officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents to enforce federal immigration laws. The Obama administration scaled back the program in 2012, largely focusing federal resources on immigrants who committed serious offenses. The Obama administration expanded “Secure Communities,” an enforcement program that requires local police to run a background check on arrested individuals against a federal database. Local police departments are requested to hold individuals found to be undocumented for federal authorities, ABC News previously reported in 2012, but Secure Communities does not require local police to inquire about legal status or arrest people on the basis of their immigration status.
The 287(g) program began in 1996, and since then it has faced criticism from advocates who say it encourages racial profiling and erodes the willingness of immigrant communities to build trust with local law enforcement. A 2013 University of Illinois at Chicago survey of 2,004 Latinos living in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix found that respondents were less likely to volunteer information about crimes because they were afraid of getting detained themselves; that they developed a fear of law enforcement activities; and that they felt less safe in their communities because of the increased focus on immigration by local law enforcement.
There is a large body of evidence showing 287(g) task force agreements have been a troubling policing tactic that do not target the most serious criminals. The U.S. Department of Justice shut down the program in Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) in 2011, after it found that the department engaged in discriminatory policing practicies which abused the rights of Latinos. One Americans Civil Liberties Union lawyer said the MCSO, led by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio who President Donald Trump pardoned earlier this year, typically pressured immigrant inmates to sign forms for voluntary removal, rather than to see if they were eligible for release. The DOJ also terminated the program in Alamance County, North Carolina after finding that the police department “routinely discriminates against and targets Latinos.” The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office — where the sheriff once ordered his deputies to “bring me some Mexicans” — is once again seeking to rejoin the federal program as of early November, according to the weekly newspaper Indy Week.