WASHINGTON, May 8, 2018 – The Trump administration has significantly revved up the immigration enforcement machinery in the U.S. interior, with arrests and deportations up about 40 percent in its first eight months over a year earlier. Yet pushback from California and cities such as Chicago, New York, Boston and Seattle makes it quite unlikely that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be able to match its record enforcement levels, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) finds in a new report.
ICE arrests and removals during fiscal 2017 were about half their peaks during the early Obama years, before that administration significantly narrowed its enforcement priorities, effectively shielding all but a fraction of the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Capping a year-long study that took MPI researchers to 15 locations—some fully cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, others not—the report draws from analysis of ICE data and interviews with more than 120 ICE senior field office personnel, state and local law enforcement and elected officials, immigrant-rights advocates, former immigration judges, community leaders and consular officials.
The researchers found that even as the Trump administration has sharply reoriented the immigration enforcement system, including by revoking all prior prosecutorial discretion guidance, pushback by “sanctuary” jurisdictions is proving a significant drag. The engine that fueled ICE’s peak effectiveness—the intersection of federal immigration enforcement with state and local criminal justice systems—is being throttled by state and local policies that limit cooperation with federal enforcement.
ICE relies heavily on state and local law enforcement to help identify and arrest non-citizens for removal. During peak ICE activity in FY 2008-2011, more than 85 percent of arrests originated with local jails and state prisons, as the fingerprints of everyone booked into detention were checked against federal immigration databases. That share had fallen to 69 percent in the early Trump months, amid curbs on cooperation by California, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island and a range of cities. And ICE was able to re-arrest just 6 percent of those whom state and local prisons and jails had declined to hold for the agency.
California, which has passed three state laws and other policies limiting cooperation with ICE, is proving a particularly significant brake on enforcement. The state’s share of overall ICE arrests fell from 23 percent in FY 2013, the year before its first “sanctuary” law passed, to 14 percent in FY 2017. While Texas, Mississippi and Iowa have adopted laws mandating ICE compliance, their rising share of overall arrests is not sufficient to offset the California decline.
“Sanctuary policies are protecting thousands from deportation and frustrating the Trump administration’s ability to deliver on its promises of stricter enforcement,” said the report’s lead co-author Randy Capps. “But the deeper story is one of growing enforcement disparities. The fortunes of an unauthorized immigrant in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, where the mere act of driving can result in arrest and deportation, are entirely different than in California, Chicago and New York, where immigrants can be arrested for a variety of crimes and not be taken into ICE custody.”
ICE has ramped up operations it can conduct on its own, arresting about 40,000 people at their residences or in the community in FY 2017, a rate similar to peak years. But at-large arrests were less than one-third of the 143,470 ICE arrests in FY 2017. And ICE agents told the MPI researchers that these operations are time-consuming, costly and more dangerous.
Even as enforcement under the Trump administration is far from the peak, the combination of sharp rhetoric and policies that have resulted in increasing arrests of non-criminals and bystanders, as well as arrests in courthouses and neighborhoods, have sown fear in immigrant communities. The report documents a decline in reporting of crimes, including domestic violence, by Hispanic communities in some study sites, as well as a reduction in economic activity and use of health services and public benefits by immigrant families.
Beyond sanctuary policies, there is growing resistance to federal immigration enforcement at other levels. Some cities are changing policing practices to reduce non-citizen arrests, such as decriminalizing driving without a license. Immigrant advocates are conducting more “know-your-rights” trainings, teaching people they do not have to open their doors to ICE. Some cities and foreign consulates are increasing funds for legal representation for detained non-citizens. And others are mobilizing to monitor ICE operations in the field or create apps to warn loved ones in the event of arrest.
The escalating tactics on both sides show no signs of abating.
“As the war of words, legislation and litigation escalate, growing enforcement disparities and uneven treatment across levels of government are increasing,” said MPI Senior Fellow and report co-author Doris Meissner, a former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. “Such unevenness in the enforcement landscape threatens a core principle of the U.S. constitutional system—federal pre-eminence in immigration—with severe implications for effective law enforcement relationships and public safety.”
Read the report, Revving Up the Deportation Machinery: Enforcement under Trump and the Pushback, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/deportation-machinery.
And for profiles of unauthorized populations at U.S., state and top county levels, click here.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.