ICE detainees at the Adelanto ICE processing center. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

New data gives another indication of how the federal government is tightening its immigration enforcement.

As President Donald Trump announces he'll terminate the program to protect so-called DREAMers from deportation, new data gives another indication of how the federal government is tightening its immigration enforcement activity.

The number of requests that local police and jails detain immigrants, known as “detainers”, has steadily increased since Donald Trump arrived at the White House, although totals have yet to approach 2011’s peaks under Barack Obama. In February and March of this year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  issued 31% more requests than in January when Trump first started his term, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

That amounts to 25,999 detainers throughout the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories. The Trump Administration has issued detainers to federal, state, and local enforcement agencies, but specifically to local county jails in California, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona.

Many of the jurisdictions dubbed “sanctuary cities” are receiving the largest numbers of these requests. The data suggests these jurisdictions are also refusing the requests in greater number.

ICE uses detainers to request that local police and correctional departments continue to hold someone who’s been arrested for 48 additional hours, based on a suspicion that they are undocumented and could be deported. The policy can prevent that person from being released, even if his or her innocence has been proven or a bond is already paid. Say, for example, a person has been arrested by the local police under a DUI charge. Local authorities are mandated to regularly send a list of the people they’ve arrested to ICE. The agency then conducts a search within their database, and issues the immigration holds—requesting, hypothetically, that the DUI arrestee is held by local law enforcement until ICE agents can take them into federal custody for potential deportation. However, many law enforcement agencies in so-called “sanctuary cities” ignore these orders as part of their municipal policies that protect undocumented immigrants.

Which jails are receiving the most detainer requests?

Between February and March this year, most of the detainers were issued to law enforcement agencies in Texas—5,091 total. Within that state, the institution that received the largest number of request to follow immigration holds was Harris County Jail, in the same county as Houston. In March—the most recent month for which data is available—Harris County as a whole received 410 immigration hold orders, while in March of 2016 it was only asked to retain 190 people. Between 2016 and 2017, numbers increased by almost 215%.

According to the report, “Detainer usage was severely cut back in 2014 when much more targeted and selective enforcement policies were instituted by the Obama Administration. Now the Trump Administration has resurrected widespread use of detainers, and is pressuring local law enforcement agencies to comply.”

The majority of jails receiving high numbers of requests to perform immigration holds are in California, Texas and Arizona.

State Jail and County Jan. Feb. March Total 2017
Texas Harris County Jail 279 334 404 1017
California Los Angeles County Jail 184 317 379 880
Arizona Maricopa County Jail 240 241 260 741
Texas Dallas County Jail 164 206 226 596
Georgia Gwinett County Jail 78 217 199 494
Texas Hidalgo County Jail 131 167 154 452
California Los Angeles City Jail 100 141 151 392
Arizona Maricopa (ASPC Alhambra) 116 127 145 388
California Kern (Taft Correctional Institution 86 131 140 357
California Orange County Jail 110 130 130 370

SOURCE: TRAC Immigration | UNIVISION

The difference between March 2016 and 2017 may be in part a reflection of how the Trump Administration responds to self-described “sanctuary cities” like Houston, which have affirmed that they will not cooperate with federal agencies to go after undocumented immigrants. The majority of the jurisdictions on this list describe themselves as “sanctuary cities”. What’s more, many of these same jurisdictions are increasingly refusing detainer requests, according to the limited data TRAC has on this behavior.

According to TRAC, 11,776 out of the 25,999 detainers requested between February and March of 2017 are tagged as “not known”, meaning we do not know whether local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) complied with the requests—whereas 1,260 of them are listed  “refused” by LEAs. The refusal rate represents a 210% increase from the same period of 2016, when Obama was in office—which means that several jurisdictions, and their respective local law enforcement agencies, are refusing to honor these detainers more than ever before.

During this same time period, other jurisdictions that have seen an increase in the number of detainers ICE sent are Phoenix, which jumped from the fifth to third place, and Los Angeles, which moved from third to second place.

However, the data gathered by TRAC cannot show the larger picture of how often those orders were respected or honored: nearly half of the reported detainer requests are tagged as “not known” whether they were respected by local law enforcement agencies. The lack of information is what really makes it difficult to assess if a city is complying with its pledge of being a “sanctuary city.”

But, out of the 582 detainer requests tagged as “refused” by LEAs in February, these are top-refusing jurisdictions across the country:

County-Facility Detainer Requests Sent in February 2017
Maricopa County - Maricopa County Jail 63
Kings County - Brooklyn Central Booking 37
San Francisco County - San Francisco Co Jail 35
Queens County - Queens Central Booking 33

In March, 678 detainers were refused. These are the counties with the highest refusal numbers:

County-Facility Detainer Requests Sent in March 2017
Los Angeles County - Los Angeles County Jail 65
Santa Clara County - Santa Clara County Main Jail 40
Cook County - Cook County Jail 32
Queens County - Queens Central Booking 30

What do these counties and cities share in common? They are all listed as “sanctuary.”

Which states are receiving the most detainer requests?

These are the ten states to which ICE issued the largest number of immigration hold requests between February and March of 2017. We added the percentage of the Hispanic population and the percentage of the undocumented population in relation to the total immigrant population, to give some context. These two indexes are based on information from the Pew Research Center.

State Number of Detainers Population That Is Hispanic/Latino Proportion of Immigrants Who Are Undocumented
California 5,292 39% 21.9%
Texas 5,091 39% 35.1%
Florida 1,431 24% 20.4%
Georgia 1,365 9% 35.6%
Arizona 1,298 31% 34.5%
New York 1,070 19% 16.8%
North Carolina 839 9% 43.3%
New Jersey 709 19% 23.9%
Virginia 572 9% 28.3%
Oklahoma 552 10% 40.5%
Others 7,780
Total 25,999

SOURCE: TRAC Immigration/Pew | UNIVISION

The states that received most requests during the first two months of the Trump Administration were California, Texas, and Florida. However, there are also states on the list where the Hispanic population is relatively smaller, but where undocumented immigrants make up a larger segment of the state’s total foreign-born population. This is the case in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Georgia, where Hispanics make up less than 10% of the total population. Illinois, the state with the fifth-largest undocumented population in the United States is, so far, an exception: It received only 370 immigration hold requests during the time period studied.

Beyond these numbers, it is important to note that many details about these detainers are still unknown. Neither ICE nor the Trump Administration has published sufficient data on the criminal background of those affected. Additionally, there is no information available about how many people have been deported after being subject to a detainer, or how effective this tool is for deporting undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes. However, another TRAC study says most of those deported were never subject to an immigration hold.

This post originally appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.

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