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The Opposite of Sanctuary

Where the local lawmen serve as immigration enforcers.

President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration created a firestorm over his proposed border wall with Mexico. Less was said, however, about the other order he signed the same day, in which he signaled his plans to double down on enlistment of local police to find and process undocumented immigrants. The order specifically mentions the 287(g) program, named for its section of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the program, local officers can alert the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they arrest someone without valid immigration status. ICE then chooses whether to assume custody of that person and begin proceedings for deportation.

In some implementations of the program, police are authorized to approach people on the street to ask about immigration status. “The federal government was essentially deputizing jurisdictions to go out and do this, ‘Show me your papers’ style enforcement,” says Daniel L. Stageman, a researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied the initiative.

According to data released by ICE, more than 175,000 people nationwide were deported under the program from 2006 to 2013, the latest year in which data detailing the local police departments is available. More than 30,000 of them came from Maricopa County, Ariz., the most from any single jurisdiction. Interact with the map below to see more data about local police in the program.

People deported through
local enforcement of the
287(g) program

Proponents of 287(g) argue that deputizing local officers is a smart and effective use of existing law enforcement. Critics point to reports of widespread racial profiling, deterioration of relations between police and Latino communities, and strain on local coffers.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, says that the first uses of the program were motivated by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and were relatively narrow in focus. It was not until 2006, Chishti says, that it widened to include routine immigration enforcement, multiplying across sheriffs’ departments, in states along the southern border.

“The most notorious of them was Maricopa County,” Chishti says. “Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio became famous for sending his deputies into Latino neighborhoods, raising concerns about racial and ethnic profiling in their enforcement targets.”

The Obama administration later revoked Maricopa County’s 287(g) agreement after a Department of Justice investigation found it had engaged in extensive profiling.

The program fell out of favor elsewhere as well, declining from its peak of over 70 local police departments across the country during President Obama’s first term, to thirty-something by his last day in office. Under pressure from critics and from a growing constituency of Latino voters, the administration began prioritizing those with serious criminal offenses over those with simple immigration or traffic violations.

The Trump administration has signaled a return to a broader enforcement policy, however. “The list of offenses that are considered high priority criminal offenses has expanded exponentially,” says Stageman. “The Trump administration has expanded it to include practically the entire population of undocumented immigrants.” As a result, he expects both the use of existing 287(g) programs and the number of programs across the country to increase dramatically.