Under President Trump, More Local Police Are Signing Up For Immigration Training

A little-known program that allows local police to enforce immigration laws is expanding in Texas and across the country.

By Alexandra HartNovember 28, 2017 2:00 pm|

By now you’re familiar with the term “sanctuary cities,” vague as it may be. Those are municipalities that limit cooperation with the federal government when it comes to enforcing immigration law.

What we don’t have a term for yet is the opposite – cities that not only agree to cooperate, but sign up for a program that helps train local police departments in enforcing immigration law. It’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program, and it’s seen new interest in the months since Donald Trump’s election. The Dallas Morning News reports 18 counties in Texas have signed up.

The program has existed since at least the mid-2000s but has fluctuated in participation, according to Mica Rosenberg, a reporter for Reuters who wrote about the program. At its peak in 2010, the 287(g) program had around 70 jurisdictions participating, according to Rosenberg. By 2016, only 32 of these agreements were left in place. Today, participation is back up to 60 departments spread across 18 states.

“Basically what it does is it takes local police officers who are interested and trains them to basically be deputized as federal immigration agents in some capacity,” she says.

With this training, police officers can check the background of anyone they arrest to determine their immigration status.

“They can access federal databases and make checks on whether or not those people are actually in the country illegally and hand them over to federal officials in a much more streamlined fashion,” Rosenberg says.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, the program fell out of favor in some ways, Rosenberg says. Obama cut funding from the program and limited officers’ ability to check immigration statuses in response to complaints of racial profiling.

“There were two models for the program, one that was called the task force model, which allowed police on patrol to check people’s’ immigration status. Obama ended that model in 2012,” Rosenberg says.

Trump wants to bring back that model, Rosenberg says. Documents Reuters obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the Trump administration has been in contact with “scores” of jurisdictions about joining the program in the past year.

“He has rapidly been increasing the number of jurisdictions that are signing up,” Rosenberg says.

Thirty-eight of the jurisdictions identified in the documents obtained by Reuters told the outlet that they have submitted applications for the program or are potentially interested in joining, Rosenberg says.

These jurisdictions claim that being part of the program speeds up the process of immigration enforcement, according to Rosenberg. Without the program, if a police department arrests somebody who they expect is in the country illegally, they have to call ICE and then wait for ICE to check the person’s status. Then, if the person is determined to be in the country illegally, the department must hold the person in local custody until ICE come to pick the person up.

But there appears to be a political motivation to join the program, too. Rosenberg says that almost three-quarters of the jurisdictions interested in joining the program were in counties that went for Trump in the last election.

“The other interesting thing that we found is that a lot of these districts were actually quite small compared to what you mentioned in your introduction, the so-called sanctuary cities,” Rosenberg says. “They typically have populations of just 100,000 people and small immigrant populations. So there’s definitely a political element here.”

Officials across the country are split over whether deputizing local police as immigration officers increases or decreases public safety.

Written by Kate Groetzinger.