Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
To carry out its immigration agenda, the Trump administration will rely on local jurisdictions—and a 1990s-era enforcement program criticized for racial profiling and inefficiency. Here’s what those cities and counties are signing up for.
Last week, Anne Arundel County in Maryland announced it would be taking a “moderate and measured” approach to local immigration enforcement by signing up for a program that trains detention officers to enforce immigration law. “We work with the federal government pretty much across the gamut, whether it’s health issues or education. Why would we stop at immigration?” Owen McEvoy, the spokesperson for the county executive, tells CityLab. “It was something that, frankly, we’d been contemplating well before the election ... No matter who was president, there was an interest. The question was: Would the interest be on the other side?”
That, there certainly is.
In his speech in the joint session of Congress Tuesday, President Donald Trump reiterated his commitment to stricter immigrant enforcement. “My administration,” he said, “has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security.” On February 21, the Department of Homeland Security released guidance on how to implement the president’s executive orders on immigration. It included a provision on a controversial enforcement program, 287(g)—a provision of a 1996 federal immigration law that deputizes local police and detention officers to enforce immigration law in jails or out on patrol.
The Commissioner of CBP and the Director of ICE should consider the operational functions and capabilities of the jurisdictions willing to enter into 287(g) agreements and structure such agreements in a manner that employs the most effective enforcement model for that jurisdiction, including the jail enforcement model, task force officer model, or joint jail enforcement-task force officer model.
There’s a couple of things of note in the two DHS memos. First, they resurrect the “task force model” of 287(g), which allows police officers to enforce immigration laws in the field, which had been scaled back under the Obama administration after racial profiling concerns. Second, the memos open up the program to Customs and Border Protection; previously, participating jurisdictions were only taking on ICE’s responsibilities. And finally, the language suggests that the government will be taking an active role in getting local jurisdictions on board. ”That’s a very, very different model to what’s been in place,” says Daniel Stageman, director of research at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. “It has the potential to expand the program exponentially.”
Stageman has been tracking places that have opted to implement 287(g), and he’s pinpointed a couple of factors that make a jurisdiction likely to do so. A sheriff who has run on a nativist platform is one factor. The second is a recent surge in the Latino population. New 287(g) counties are likely to pop up where the program was popular in the first place—in Southeastern states like North Carolina and South Carolina, and in Arizona, home of Maricopa County and its infamous former sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
It’s hard to say where the more aggressive Trump-era task-force iteration of 287(g) will catch on—it’s a "harder sell,” Stageman says. But for local jurisdictions that have contracts with ICE to hold undocumented immigrants in their jails, rounding up and detaining immigrants for deportation by using that model might be seen as a lucrative option. Bristol County, Massachusetts, which signed its 287(g) agreement this year, scores a trifecta: a notoriously anti-immigrant sheriff, a growing Latino population, and a contract that brings in $90 per day for each jail bed occupied.
The rise and fall of 287(g)
The program was first authorized in the 1990s, but it only started gaining traction after 2006. Complaints started surfacing soon thereafter. In 2010, reports by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that ICE had little oversight over officers carrying out the complicated immigration enforcement, leaving a lot of room for abuses of power and discrimination. Then in 2011, a Justice Department investigation exposed rampant racial profiling and civil rights abuses in Maricopa County, Arizona, prompting DHS to rescind its task force agreement with the county. Other jurisdictions with that approach also met with similar fates.
In 2008, the Obama government rolled out another local immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, through which anyone booked into jail has their fingerprints run though an immigration database. If it matched, ICE asked police departments to detain these individuals for extra time. ICE itself called this new program “a more efficient use of resources” than the already rare task force model of 287(g). Considering the two mostly synonymous, many jurisdictions that participated in Secure Communities let their 287(g) agreements expire.
At its peak around 2008 and 2009, the 287(g) program had around 70 participating jurisdictions. Currently, 38 jurisdictions have an active jail enforcement agreements. Jackson County, Texas, is among those who officially signed up this year.
CityLab created a map showing which jurisdictions opted in or renewed, after the Obama administration reformed the program. The states outlined in red contain the current 287(g) jurisdictions (in dark grey). These spots flicker in red on the date they officially came on board. A couple of things to keep in mind: The state correctional facilities with the jail enforcement program are marked by their headquarters. And the surge in 2016 is mainly due to renewals for agreements renegotiated in 2012, not new agreements—although there are a couple of those as well. (Older agreements can be found here.)
Maricopa County, and the costs of 287(g)
On February 8, Guadalupe García de Rayos said a prayer before heading out to what she feared would be her last check-in with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Phoenix, Arizona. Even though she had a deportation order from 2013, the authorities had given the 35-year-old mother of two a pass for many years. This evening, she wasn’t so lucky. Despite protests, she was whisked away as her two teenage children watched. From Nogales, Mexico, García de Rayos later told reporters: "The truth is I was there [in the United States] for my children. For a better future. To work for them. And I don't regret it, because I did it for love.”
García de Rayos had come up on ICE’s radar in 2008, after a raid ordered by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a water park in Mesa, where she worked illegally. These kinds of sweeps were routine after Arpaio had signed up for task force enforcement. He took these new powers to their limits—and then some. His posse regularly stopped folks who looked Latino at traffic stops for trivial matters, conducted sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods and businesses, detained immigrants unlawfully, subjected them to excessive force and physical abuse, and punished them for not being able to speak English. These practices were unapologetic, explicit policy. “You go after illegals. I’m not afraid to say that,” Arizona Central quotes him saying after he signed the 287(g) agreement. “You go after them and you lock them up.”
Over at The Marshall Project, interactive reporter Anna Flagg designed this map below that shows the deportations under the 287(g) program between 2006 and 2013, using data released by ICE. It shows that over 17 percent of the total 175,000 deportations during this time happened from Maricopa County:
But this activity came at a steep cost to area taxpayers. Within the first three months, Arpaio’s “overtime spending binge on operations to arrest illegal immigrants” led to a $1.3 million deficit, according to an investigation by the East Valley Tribune. (ICE foots expenses related to operations but doesn’t pay the salaries of the deputized officers.) And of course, the racial profiling lawsuits ended up shaving off millions in taxpayer dollars in subsequent years. Meanwhile, 911 response times increased, felony warrants went unserved, and violent crime ultimately went up.
The program’s high costs have been well-documented. A comprehensive University of North Carolina report from 2010 found that Alamance County had paid around $4.8 million and Mecklenburg County, $5.3 million for 287(g) in their first year. Litigation and loss of tax and business revenue further hurt the bottom line. Prince William County, Virginia, had to make a withdrawal from its rainy day funds to kickstart its 287(g) initiative, according to a Brookings report.
Several evaluations of the program have found that, overall, it usually didn’t target serious criminals as intended, but undocumented people who were picked up for minor traffic violations and offenses like loitering. Some victims of crime were also swept up. Such policing can create a fear and distrust of law enforcement in immigrant communities, making it a tough environment to protect and serve; the UNC report concluded that there was “little evidence that the 287(g) Program [was] reducing or deterring crime” in North Carolina.
So what do these counties actually get out of these programs, apart from political gains and federal resources to conduct enforcement? Well, supporters say the program helps in “attrition through enforcement”—by creating conditions that lead undocumented folks to self-deport, it stems the growth of the immigrant population. In fact, a Migration Policy Institute report found these programs do lead to “short-term drops in Hispanic non-citizen populations, while neighboring counties experienced no such declines.” But it was careful to mention that there’s no evidence to suggest that the people who moved out of these counties actually left the country. The report also didn’t test for whether economic conditions had a part to play in their exodus.
Under an administration that has prioritized almost all 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportation, the participation in the 287(g) program is likely to go up. “There are going to be jurisdictions out there that…are chomping at the bit to sign up not just for 287(g), but the most aggressive 287(g) agreements possible,” says Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration at the Center for American Progress.
Along with the the revival of Secure Communities (another much-criticized program) and the bulking up of federal immigration enforcement apparatus, the robust deportation machinery that the Obama administration created is now being put in overdrive. As Dara Lind writes in Vox, it’s rank-and-file immigration and police officers who will be in the driver’s seat. For Carlos Garcia, director of Puente, an immigrants rights organization created to oppose Arpaio, that future looks bleak. “The country is going to realize what Arizona has lived through for a long time.”
George Joseph contributed to this report.