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.
Pardoning Joe Arpaio might accelerate the spread of a controversial immigration enforcement policy.
Updated on August 27 at 4 p.m.
President Donald Trump announced late Friday that he is pardoning the notorious former sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio.
"Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration," the White House said in a statement.
With his announcement, Trump has condoned Arpaio’s egregious, abuse-ridden crackdown on undocumented immigrants and his defiance of a federal court order to stop racial profiling. The presidential pardon is likely to encourage other local governments to abandon any fears of litigation and sign up to engage in similar behavior. It could be the latest boost to the number of so-called “anti-sanctuary” cities, which have been on the rise since Trump took office.
When he was sheriff, Arpaio participated in the 287(g) program, which invests local police with immigration enforcement powers in jails, out in the field, or both. Arpaio took these powers to their maximum limit—and then some. He spent inordinate amounts of taxpayer dollars on hunting down undocumented immigrants (and then later, on the lawsuits that he faced as a result). He became notorious for the inhumane and humiliating conditions he’d impose on to the immigrants in his custody. He’d moved hundreds of male detainees to a new jail in nothing but pink underwear. When the jails became overcrowded, he moved his prisoners to “concentration camps”—tent cities with no respite from the temperatures as high as 135 degrees. Detainees in his were often physically abused, and deaths occurred at unprecedented rates.
In 2011, a Justice Department investigation confirmed his civil rights violations, and DHS revoked its agreement to let his officers carry out immigration enforcement in the field. That was a year after two government watchdogs had concluded that the 287(g) program ran with little oversight from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For these reasons, the program was scaled back in favor of other forms of cooperation under the Obama administration. But the current government has resurrected and enhanced it, and is actively pushing local governments to embrace it. And so far, it appears to be working.
In July, ICE announced that 18 new counties—all of them in Texas—have signed up for 287(g) in 2017. At 60 overall, that’s almost double the number from a year ago. So far, these counties have opted for the “jail enforcement model,” in which only jailers can carry out ICE’s responsibilities. It’s a milder iteration of 287(g) than Arpaio version—but one that has also been criticized as costly and counter-productive.
Here’s a map CityLab made of all the agreements signed (or re-signed) in 2016 and 2017:
See the full list here.
It seems that what Trump is selling, many sheriffs are willing to buy. And the ones who are still tentative may be offered creative workarounds. According to The New York Times, for example, the administration is planning to “contract” sheriffs’ departments to detain suspected undocumented people, potentially sidestepping legal issues. It’s not clear what shape these new agreements will take, but they’re animated by the same law as current 287(g) agreements. Daniel Stageman, the director of research at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York, has been tracking these types of agreements. Back in November, he wrote:
The parameters of such agreements, or the training that local law enforcement officers require under them, are left ambiguous. Notwithstanding the established practice of ICE under the Obama administration (or the GW Bush administration prior to that), it is certainly conceivable that a Trump administration could severely reduce the rigor of established training requirements, along with the strictures laid out in ICE’s current Memorandum of Agreement template, leaving a loose and undemanding structure to induce local law enforcement agencies to join.
Just as Stageman predicted, smaller counties in the South near to large numbers of undocumented immigrants are already queuing up to join, buoyed by the prospect of political and economic gain. The form of “anti-sanctuary” jurisdictions is also mutating.