Immigration enforcement is changing dramatically under President Donald Trump, though California and other sanctuary areas are pushing back and making the overall deportation numbers under Trump lower than in previous administrations, according to a new report released Tuesday.
That dynamic – sanctuary areas pitted against the Trump administrations expanded effort to pick up undocumented people living in the United States – also has led to disparities from state to state in how and why people are deported, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank in Washington D.C. that studies migration and refugee issues.
“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,” said the reports co-author Randy Capps.
Laws in California and other states and cities that limit local police cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have affected immigration arrest trends, and they also have potential implications on public safety, according to the 132-page report on changing immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior under the Trump administration.
In California, for example, the state accounted for about 23 percent of ICE arrests in 2013, the year before the first in a series of sanctuary laws was passed. By last year the state accounted for just 14 percent of ICE arrests.
The reports authors suggested that the differences between state and federal laws creates potential chaos, writing: “(The) 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.”
The federal governments lead role on immigration is one of the issues that has been brought up repeatedly as cities and counties in California pass so-called “anti-sanctuary” laws. Over the past two months more than 30 cities and three counties, including Orange and San Diego counties, have joined an effort that started in Los Alamitos.
“Immigration is fundamentally a federal policy. States dont get to make federal policy,” said Muzaffar Chishti, one of the reports authors. “California is saying its not changing immigration policy. That will be decided by litigation (from the Trump administration against California.)”
“At some level, we are arguing these states and localities are indirectly making immigration policy,” Chishti said in a phone interview following a press event in Washington D.C. to present the report, titled “Revving Up the Deportation Machinery; Enforcement and Pushback Under Trump.”
The year-long study includes data from Southern California, comparing the region with the rest of the nation. It also took MPI researchers to 15 specific locations, including Los Angeles and Orange County, for interviews with 120 ICE officials, community leaders, law enforcement and immigrant advocates, among others.
In the first eight months following President Trumps inauguration, arrests and deportations of people residing illegally in the interior of the United States increased by about 40 percent, to about 110,000 individuals, when compared with the first eight months of 2016.
The Trump administration has cast a wider net in their arrests and narrowed the discretion of officials to to release detainees or to postpone their deportation. Instead, the administration wants to ramp up deportation hearings and is pressuring judges to process cases faster, calling for a quota system – a move decried by many immigration judges.
But those recent numbers are part of a longer deportation story.
Even with its stepped-up effort, the Trump administration is deporting fewer people, overall, than the number of people deported by ICE agents in the last years of the George W. Bush administration or the first years of the Barack Obama administration. During that era, deportations in the U.S. interior ran between 200,000 and 300,000 people a year and Obama was given the nickname “Deporter-in-Chief.” The centers report predicts it is unlikely that the Trump administration will hit those numbers.
Obamas second term, by contrast, was marked by ew enforcement priorities targeting serious and violent criminals and a prosecutorial discretion policy that led to steep declines in arrests and deportations. Combined, the immigration rules of the second Obama term effectively protected about 87 percent of the 11-plus million people living in the country illegally, according to the reports authors.
Obama also introduced the DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offered a temporary, renewable reprieve from deportations for younger people illegally brought to the country as children. Nearly 690,000 people – about 200,000 in California – are recipients of that program. Trump is pushing to dismantle DACA.
When Trump became president, he moved to do away with Obamas deportation priorities and executive orders on immigration. Everyone became deportable; not only those who had committed serious and violent crimes.
The report suggests the new era was best illustrated by a public statement from ICE Director Thomas Homan, who last June sent this message to undocumented people: “You should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder.”
Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Center office at the New York University, called Trumps presidency “a huge sea change” that ignited resistance in many jurisdictions.
Legislators passed protective laws. Civil rights groups assisted with legal help. Non-profits teamed up to offer training, including know-your-right lessons that, among other things, taught undocumented people to not open the door to immigration agents unless they have a valid warrant.
“California is obviously seen as a big leader in this area,” Chishti said.
Among Californias newest laws that aim to protect some some 2.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the state is the California Values Act, or SB-54, which limits how police can cooperate with ICE. That law is being met with opposition via city and county resolutions, a local ordinance or legal action.
Other states, meanwhile, did the opposite. Many conservative states passed laws that strengthened cooperation with ICE. In Texas, for example, SB-4 prohibits any city from limiting an officers ability to ask people in custody about their immigration status and share that information with federal agents.
While the report noted that some 300 jurisdictions around the country have policies that either limit cooperation with ICE or “symbolically” provide sanctuary, “a large majority of more than 3,000 law enforcement jurisdictions across the country fully cooperate with ICE.”
Those differences between communities have made the impact of arrests and deportations uneven across the country, according to the report.
Sarah Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for ICE, said her agency disagrees with the assessment that expanded immigration enforcement has led to unpredictability for would-be deportees and broader immigrant communities.
“There is more predictability in ICEs actions now that there is no category of alien exempt from removal,” she said.
Spokesmen for both the Riverside and Orange County Sheriffs departments said their departments do not engage in immigration enforcement. But both also said fuller cooperation between their agencies and ICE would benefit public safety.
Some immigrant activists, and others, suggest the public is less safe because of the new rules.
Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, noted that the report shows immigrants in some communities are reporting crimes at lower rates because they fear arrest for themselves or their relatives. Among Latinos in Los Angeles, for example, reports of sexual assault and domestic violence fell 25 percent and 10 percent respectively from 2016 to 2017, according to the report.
“The increase in collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE damages (law enforcements) relationship with the community,” Hernandez said.
But Gary Mead, former executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations at ICE, said his former organization now has a “clarity of focus.”
“If they encounter someone here illegally, deport them,” Mead said.
And its not important, Mead added, how many years the unauthorized immigrants have been in the country or whether they have family or a good job, or if theyve committed a crime thats only a misdemeanor – all arguments that are often cited by immigrant rights advocates.
“It doesnt matter,” Mead said.
“Being here unlawfully is grounds for removal. Period.”