With 'sanctuary' cities across America furiously defiant over the new administration's threats to halt Obama's taxpayer-funded law-breaking, AP reports that President Trump is reviving a program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.
The program received scant attention as Trump announced on the same day his plans to build a border wall and hire thousands more federal agents as he looks to fulfill promises from his campaign.
The program has fallen out of the favor in recent years amid complaints from critics that it promotes racial profiling.
More than 60 police and sheriff's agencies had the special authority in 2009.
Since then, the number has been halved and the effort scaled back amid complaints officers weren't focusing on catching violent offenders and instead arrested immigrants for minor violations.
Police leaders across America have already responded with LAPD chief Charlie Beck perhaps the most vocal, saying in November, he has no plans to follow Trump's demands, "we are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status. We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts."
Chief Beck said he planned to maintain the long-standing separation.
For decades, the LAPD has distanced itself from federal immigration policies. The LAPD prohibits officers from initiating contact with someone solely to determine whether they are in the country legally, mandated by a special order signed by then-chief Daryl Gates in 1979. During Beck’s tenure as chief, the department stopped turning over people arrested for low-level crimes to federal agents for deportation and moved away from honoring federal requests to detain inmates who might be deportable past their jail terms.
“I don’t intend on doing anything different,” he said. “We are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status. We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”
In Los Angeles, officials have tried to alleviate some of those concerns by signaling their support for the city’s immigrant residents. At a meeting Friday at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city would question Trump’s decisions on immigration.
“If the first day, as president, we see something that is hostile to our people, hostile to our city, bad for our economy, bad for our security, we will speak up, speak out, act up and act out,” Garcetti said.
The mayor also said that the LAPD would continue to enforce Special Order 40, the Gates-signed directive that bars officers from contacting someone solely to determine their immigration status.
“Our law enforcement officers and LAPD don’t go around asking people for their papers, nor should they,” he said. “That’s not the role of local law enforcement.”
And now today,
"This is not our job, nor will I make it our job,” Beck said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“We couldn’t deport 500,000 people if we wanted to, and if we did, it would be at the expense of public safety,”
As AP notes, however, the program could end up having a significant impact on immigration enforcement around the country..
Sheriff Joe Arpaio used the program most aggressively in metro Phoenix, and he became arguably the nation's best-known immigration enforcer at the local level in large part because of the special authority. In a strange twist, he was thrown out of office in the same election that vaulted Trump to the presidency, mostly because of mounting frustration over legal issues and costs stemming from the patrols.
In his executive order this week, Trump said he wants to empower local law enforcement to act as immigration officers and help with the "investigation, apprehension, or detention" of immigrants in the country illegally.
The move comes at a time when the country is sharply divided over the treatment of immigrants. Cities such as Chicago and San Francisco have opposed police involvement in immigration while some counties in Massachusetts and Texas are now seeking to jump in.
Proponents say police departments can help bolster immigration enforcement and prevent criminals from being released back into their neighborhoods, while critics argue that deputizing local officers will lead to racial profiling and erode community trust in police.
With Trump in office, the program has new life.
Even before the change in administration, two Republican county sheriffs in Massachusetts said they were starting programs. In Texas, Jackson County sheriff A. J. "Andy" Louderback said two officers will get trained to run immigration jail checks this spring and nearby counties want to follow suit. Louderback said teaming up with federal agents will cost his agency roughly $3,000 — a small price to pay to cover for officers while they're on a four-week training course, especially in an area struggling with human smuggling.
Once the program is underway, he said immigration agents will send a daily van to pick up anyone flagged for deportation from jail. "It just seems like good law enforcement to partner with federal law enforcement in this area," he said. "It takes all of us to do this job."
'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. "There is no question that in order to do the type of mass deportation that he promised, it will require him conscripting local law enforcement agencies," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "It is going to balkanize things ... and we're going to see more of the extremes."