Trump's plan to let local cops enforce immigration could put neighboring cities at odds

Included in President Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities is a vow to expand a two-decade old program that empowers local police to perform immigration enforcement. Cities that partake could find themselves at odds with nearby sanctuary cities.

Matt York/AP/File
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks at a news conference in Phoenix in 2010. President Donald Trump plans to revitalize a long-standing program to deputize local police officers to enforce federal immigration law. The program was used in the past by Arpaio, then sheriff of metro Phoenix, to conduct immigration patrols that were later discredited in court.

In an effort to launch the deportation policies that garnered wide support for him on the campaign trail, President Trump is seeking to boost an existing measure that empowers local police officials to enforce federal immigration laws, bringing some police departments closer to federal authorities, just as other communities are turning away.

The plan has sparked debates over the relationship between the federal authorities and local law enforcement. Some say that so-called sanctuary cities use tactics that harbor dangerous, undocumented immigrants and clash with federal laws. Others argue that placing local officers in charge of immigration enforcement can erode trust between police departments and their communities and overburden departments.

And disagreements on the roles local officials should play could serve to further divide communities in their policies. As sanctuary cities have vowed to fight anti-immigration orders, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has struck a resounding chord in others, making them eager to participate in “roundups” of undocumented immigrants through a longstanding program known as 287(g), which allows local law enforcement officers to perform duties typically designated to immigration agents.

“The Supreme Court has made clear it is the exclusive function of the federal government to enforce immigration laws,” Ingrid Eagly, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor who specializes in immigration law, told The New York Times last week. “[Trump] has indicated that he plans to revive ... 287(g), that could provide additional funding to localities that partner with immigration authorities. But participation in the program is voluntary and known to divert resources from local law enforcement priorities.”

Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that threatens to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding if they refuse to comply with federal immigration laws. While there’s no singular legal definition for a sanctuary city, municipalities that deem themselves as such generally refuse to hold undocumented immigrants accused of minor crimes for longer periods that would allow federal officials to take them into custody and deport them.

The move, which legal experts have called aggressive, could likely crumble under scrutiny. Many have noted that Congress, not the president, has the authority to cut federal funding. Additionally, they argue that any effort on the president’s part to coerce cities or states into yielding to his political goals would violate the Constitution’s 10th Amendment.

But for cities that lack sanctuary protections, a revival of the declining partnerships could be a possibility. In his executive order, Trump said he intends to empower local law enforcement in the “investigation, apprehension, or detention” of those living in the US illegally, using a 1996 measure known as Immigration and Nationality Act, or 287(g). The program provides federal training to state and local officers to identify, process, and detain those who violate immigration law after encountering them while performing their regular law-enforcement duties.

In 2009, more than 60 local departments had partnered with Immigrants and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the act. Since, half have scaled back their efforts or severed their ties after many local agencies found that enforcing the policies both overburdened their officers and led to unconstitutional racial profiling. Under the Obama administration, parties lost their arrest power.

Today, more than 30 communities in 16 states are participants in 287(g), while some 200 others have become sanctuary cities.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, which contains Phoenix, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio became known as one of the toughest immigration enforcers in the nation. He came under fire for using patrolmen to target immigrants in traffic stops, a move that led to a federal lawsuit against the county after officers were determined to have racially profiled Latinos. The suit cost taxpayers some $50 million, and the enforcement efforts were discredited. Mr. Arpaio was voted out of his position last fall.

Several mayors and law enforcement officials vowed to defy the executive order last week, saying they intend to keep their sanctuary city policies.

“We’re the melting pot of the world out here in California, there are a lot of immigrant communities that we serve, so we need to make sure that they feel comfortable” contacting police for help, Capt. Jeff Scroggin of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told The Christian Science Monitor last week. “The most important thing we strive to do is to build enough trust so that residents provide information that makes this community safer. It’s a team effort.”

But around the country, other sheriffs are acting in stark contrast. In Bristol and Plymouth, two Massachusetts counties south of the sanctuary city of Boston, sheriffs entered into agreements with the ICE earlier this month, launching relationships that allow them to enforce immigration law.

“We’re not going to be out there actively shaking the trees and looking for people that we identify as illegal,” Plymouth Sheriff Joseph McDonald told The Boston Globe earlier this month. “These are individuals that have committed other crimes in the community and fit a priority that is defined not by us, but by immigration.”

That approach directly opposes the sanctuary policies of several other Massachusetts cities. Under 287(g), undocumented immigrants living in Plymouth or Bristol would see fewer protections than those living just an hour south of shielded immigrants in Boston. Orange County in California and Frederick County in Maryland are other 287(g) partners that lie not far from major sanctuary cities of Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

For many, the revival of 287(g) would likely mark a foray into extreme immigration enforcement — the very kind Trump has spent the past year and a half promising his voters.

“There is no question that in order to do the type of mass deportation that he promised, it will require him conscripting local law enforcement agencies,” Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told the Associated Press. “It is going to balkanize things ... and we’re going to see more of the extremes.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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