In January, President Trump said he wanted to empower local law enforcement to act as immigration officers and help with the “investigation, apprehension, or detention” of immigrants in the country illegally. Traditionally, local police departments are not involved in immigration enforcement and those duties are carried out by federal authorities.
Police chiefs from cities across the U.S. are resisting the move by the administration to enlist local police officers to help deport undocumented immigrants. In a joint letter sent to Congress, 61 sheriffs and police chiefs wrote, “We can best serve our communities by leaving the enforcement of immigration laws to the federal government. Threatening the removal of valuable grant funding from jurisdictions that choose not to spend limited resources enforcing federal immigration law is extremely problematic.” The White House plan would also withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Some of the cities that have vowed not to participate in the involvement of immigration laws include Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Providence and Denver. Many expressed concerns that immigrants already wary of reporting crimes or being interviewed as witnesses will retreat further into the shadows.
Trump’s plan is not a new idea but is not regularly practiced throughout the country. A 1996 federal law opened up the possibility for local agencies to participate in immigration enforcement on the streets and do citizenship checks of people in local jails. Immigration and Customs Enforcement trained and certified roughly 1,600 officers to carry out these checks from 2006 to 2015.
The Obama administration phased out all the arrest power agreements in 2013, but still let agencies check whether people jailed in their jurisdiction were citizens. If an inmate is found to be in the country illegally, the department typically notifies federal authorities or hands them over to immigration officers. Today, more than 30 local agencies participate in the jail program.
Experts said Trump’s outreach to local law enforcement will create an even bigger split between sanctuary cities that keep police out of immigration enforcement and those eager to help the new president bolster deportations.
During the election, Trump found support among some law enforcement officers who viewed him as more pro-police than his Democratic opponent. But even officers who privately said they had voted for him- are not eager to help with his immigration agenda. Many officers feel that they have enough on their plate. They are too busy answering 911 calls, arresting robbers, stopping erratic drivers and solving homicides to add federal immigration enforcement to their to-do lists.