- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Despite feverish anti-ICE sentiment and some high-profile defections, the Trump administration has quietly managed to expand the number of jurisdictions that have agreed to scour their jails and cooperate with the Homeland Security Department to spot migrants with criminal records who should be deported.

The number of participants in what’s known as the 287(g) program, which trains local authorities to begin the deportation process, has shot from 36 on Inauguration Day to 142 now.

All told, the population covered by cooperating cities and counties has surged from about 22 million to 31 million.

A major defection did happen Tuesday, as Prince William County — once one of the poster-child jurisdictions — ended its 13 years of cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Matthew T. Albence, acting chief of ICE, said the agency doesn’t have the personnel to scour the county’s jails 24 hours a day — something the deputies were able to do under the cooperation agreement. Now, some of the 700 people flagged each year in Prince William will end up back on the streets rather than ousted from the country.

“Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, it’s common sense: If you can get a criminal off the street, why wouldn’t you do that?” Mr. Albence told The Washington Times. “We’ve lost some partners because of politics, and individuals chose to make decisions that were politically based, not based on public safety or based on facts.”

The 287(g) program, so named because of the section of immigration law that governs it, allows ICE to train local law enforcement officers to begin the deportation process, running fingerprints and doing the legal status and criminal checks to decide whether someone is a deportable migrant.

The program used to have a community model that trained officers out making arrests and a jail model that trained officers who run bookings.

The Obama administration canceled the community program, arguing it was snaring low-level targets, but kept the jail model, arguing migrants — mostly those in the country illegally — who had criminal encounters were priority targets for deportation.

But Mr. Albence has overseen the addition of another model: the Warrant Service Officer program. It’s more limited than the jail model but does allow officers to make arrests on behalf of ICE.

At the beginning of the Trump administration, about 22 million people lived in counties and cities covered by jailhouse model agreements. That number has dropped about 2.5 million. The additional Warrant Service Officer locations more than make up for it, adding 11 million people in covered jurisdictions.

Under the 287(g) jail model, local officers act as force multipliers, able to check new arrivals and begin deportation proceedings even without ICE on site.

Prince William County had 11 active deputies and, over the past 3½ years, flagged more than 2,500 people booked into the regional jail. ICE said they included 65 homicide cases, 277 sexual assault cases and 1,612 DWI arrests or convictions.

Yet the leadership at the jail board said the agreement wasn’t worth the effort, expense or anger among the county’s growing Hispanic population.

At a virtual board meeting a couple of weeks ago, the motion to renew the 287(g) agreement couldn’t even draw a second.

“This moment will go down in history as the one when years of work resulted in Prince William County vehemently rejecting hatred and racism and instead embracing diversity and inclusion,” said Luis Aguilar, director of CASA Virginia, the region’s largest immigrant rights group.

Mr. Albence said it would take 20 to 25 ICE officers to cover Prince William around the clock and he doesn’t have the manpower to do that.

There are 3,100 local jurisdictions across the country, and ICE has only about 6,000 deportation officers. It still has to fend off calls for budget cuts and even its total abolition.

Without 287(g), ICE will still get records of everyone in Prince William’s jail whose fingerprints are run against federal databases and can still respond to try to pick up targets.

But Mr. Albence said they will miss some migrants who get released before ICE can flag them. Others are never fingerprinted, so ICE may not even get the chance.

Fifteen years ago, it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue. Back then, Mr. Albence said, jurisdictions would proactively call ICE when they had a potential target. But immigrant rights activists have persuaded many jurisdictions to become sanctuaries, rebuffing any communication or limiting cooperation.

“What happened in Prince William is emblematic of what’s happening in a lot of jurisdictions around this country,” Mr. Albence said.

Some jurisdictions that have moved away from 287(g) cooperation say they feared the program was souring their relationship with their Hispanic and immigrant communities.

CASA made that case in Prince William, saying residents now can contact police and other law enforcement officials without fear that it could lead to negative consequences for themselves or their family members.

Some departments claim to have seen changes in crime reporting statistics based on the public’s beliefs about cooperation with ICE, saying victims stopped calling in crimes.

Mr. Albence disputed those claims.

ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center in Vermont receives all immigration inquiries for arrests, and he said the number increases each year, “which means people are reporting crimes to local police departments.”

“I think that’s an argument people put out there to obfuscate the issue,” he said. “The issue is are there people in the country illegally committing crimes we can do something about? … We actually can prevent crime because we can get recidivists off the street.”

The battle still rages in communities across the country.

Big jurisdictions such as Orange County in California, Harris County in Texas, and Wake and Mecklenburg counties in North Carolina have all ditched 287(g) agreements since 2017. Orange and Harris alone (suburban Los Angeles and Houston, respectively) were responsible for thousands of deportation leads a year.

But ICE has added far more jurisdictions than it has lost, including more than a dozen in Texas.

ICE created the Warrant Service Officer program, which has allowed 65 counties, chiefly in Florida, to sign up to cooperate.

Across the Potomac River from Prince William, Sheriff Jeff Gahler in Harford County, Maryland, just renewed his 287(g) agreement last week.

Kyle Andersen, a spokesman for the sheriff, said it helps cleanse their streets of gang members and violent criminals, leading to a record-low crime rate.

“The 287(g) Program has helped identify dangerous individuals, including known gang members and drug dealers who are in this country illegally,” he told The Times. “Detainers are filed against these offenders, and they enter federal immigrations court proceedings for potential removal instead of being released back into the community to potentially victimize more individuals.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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