The Homeland Security Department suspended its sanctuary city report after just three weeks, with officials acknowledging Tuesday that they had goofed on some of the data and needed more time to refine the process of figuring out who ends up on the name-and-shame list.
The list was ordered by President Trump, who in one of his early executive orders said it would give communities a chance to see whether their local police and sheriff’s departments were cooperating with federal agents to remove dangerous illegal immigrants.
But the list, maintained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and officially known as the Declined Detainer Outcome Report, has become controversial as jurisdictions strenuously object to the sanctuary label. At the same time, residents in some communities were surprised that their cities or counties weren’t listed.
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly concluded that the list wasn’t ready for public release and imposed the pause.
“ICE remains committed to publishing the most accurate information available regarding declined detainers across the country and continues to analyze and refine its reporting methodologies. While this analysis is ongoing, the publication of the Declined Detainer Outcome Report (DDOR) will be temporarily suspended,” said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez.
Still, officials said the list has been a success by sparking frank discussions between Homeland Security and communities that ICE said didn’t do enough to cooperate with immigration agents.
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One addition last week was Maricopa County in Arizona, where Sheriff Paul Penzone, who unseated Joe Arpaio in the November election, made policy changes.
The new sheriff ditched Mr. Arpaio’s long-standing practice of “courtesy holds” for ICE officers after county attorneys warned that they could be breaking the law by holding someone beyond the time required by county or state laws.
After a week of negotiations, Sheriff Penzone said ICE officers would still be at the jails and allowed to screen every person arrested.
If officers decided they wanted pursue a deportation, the sheriff’s department would notify them when the person would be released. That gave ICE at least five hours to arrive to pick up the person, sheriff’s office spokesman Mark Casey said.
Mr. Casey bristled at his county’s listing as a sanctuary city.
“The fact is there are no cities with that designation in Maricopa County and none in Arizona,” he said.
The latest list, released on April 5, showed 142 jurisdictions that ICE determined had policies that in some way thwarted cooperation. The previous week had listed 150 jurisdictions.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said ICE was making a big mistake by suspending the sanctuary report, which she said gave Americans a clearer look at how their local officials were helping or hindering immigration enforcement.
“At some point, the administration is going to have to stand up to the sanctuaries, who will try to undermine them and deride them at every opportunity,” she said. “Right now, ICE looks like they are folding at the first peep of criticism.”
Ms. Vaughan and the center have for several years maintained their own list of sanctuary jurisdictions, and she said she received the same kinds of complaints from communities that were listed.
“I simply explained to them why they were on the list. They can choose to change or not — a bunch of them have, in a positive way,” she said. “If being listed as a sanctuary causes people in the community to complain, well, that’s a good thing. They should have to explain themselves to the public. That’s called accountability.”
Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold federal grant money from sanctuary communities, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that money paid out in the past could be clawed back.
But the struggle over putting together an accurate list of sanctuaries underscores the trouble the administration may face in trying to withhold money.
ICE’s weekly report was broken into three sections. The first detailed the number of new detainer requests issued, and the second gave the criminal charges in cases where local officials refused to cooperate. The final section was a list of jurisdictions that ICE said had policies thwarting cooperation.
According to data from the first three weeks, only slightly more than 40 percent of those with declined detainers had been convicted of the most notable charges on their records.
That is a major change from the Obama administration, which generally required illegal immigrants to have been convicted of serious charges to be considered for deportation.
The reports were delayed by more than a month, meaning the Feb. 10 report was released on March 29 and the Feb. 17 report was released on April 5.
Sanctuary cities show varying degrees of obstruction. Some refuse all communications with ICE while others will communicate release dates but say they will not hold illegal immigrants any longer than required under local laws.
Both the Obama and Trump administrations have been critical of sanctuaries, saying they put the community and law enforcement at risk by letting potentially dangerous criminals back onto the streets.
“It is much safer for all involved — the community, law enforcement and even the criminal alien — if ICE officers take custody in the controlled environment of another law enforcement agency,” Ms. Rodriguez said.